Sunday, August 10, 2008

Negroproponte's Laptop

In The Sunday Times I write about Microsoft and Intel's attempted assassination of Nicholas Negroponte's laptop for the poor.


  1. An excellent analysis of the Nazi end of capitalism and how a company can achieve stunning financial success with a third rate product through the application of force.
    You don't have to be a geek to use Linux OS, just use a small amount of patience.
    May Ubuntu be with you.

  2. Thanks for this. It's a story that's long been told in tech circles but it's never really been presented in this way to Joe Public, and nor have the ideas behind it such as constructionism.

    I still think the OLPC project was misconceived. Clean water and cheap drugs for problems like malaria are more important. Chances are the laptops would have swiftly ended up in the hands not of the kids but of their parents. Used en masse with their mesh networking, the devices would have allowed the creation of markets for local produce far more efficient than mobile phones and word of mouth could ever manage. Since this would have included markets in information and politics (without, potentially at least, having to connect to a heavily policed local internet because of the mesh network effect), one can see that the sink-hole dictatorships of the world would never have liked the idea. The OLPC project wasn't just a threat to Intel and Microsoft.

    Apologies for the long post but it is an interesting subject. Our stores are full to the rafters with high-tech products but most people probably don't realize the extent to which the corporations ruthlessly control what can be done with them. These days, Apple is one of the foremost Fat Controllers, too.

  3. Is there any evidence to support the underlying assumption of the OLPC project, that computers are an effective educational tool? A priori, one would have thought that basic literacy and numeracy is more important in developing countries, and a necessary requirement for being able to use a computer in the first place.

    Developing countires require enhanced levels of numeracy and literacy, and effective legal and economic systems. The distribution of computers to developing countries will not solve the problems of porverty and disease any more than the distribution of TVs and radios to such countries.

    Even in the UK, the various Computers in Schools projects have done nothing to enhance the quality of education; on the contrary, basic literacy and numeracy appears to have degenerated.

  4. Gordon speaks the truth.

  5. It says a lot for our understanding or misunderstanding of the human soul when you consider that education has gone from a grounding in great literature to knowing how to use a computer.

    Perhaps one can see education as a cultural indicator like people's attitude to the death penalty. Education is a pragmatic necessity which, however, has an underlying worldview: education is intended to develop human beings to their highest potential. So in any age the ideas of education will point to the dominant idea of what it is to be human, since you can't speculate about what our highest potential is till you have some idea of what we are.

    In the past education meant you had the basic tools of civilised thought (literacy & numeracy), and you were introduced to the high points of human intellect & spirit, in the form of great literature such as Shakespeare.

    Now it seems that the ideal is a semi-literate permanent adolescent with no knowledge of the past, minimal linguistic abilities, no concentration span or inwardness, but great technical proficiency with computers.

    In other words, the highest ideal for human beings is now to work computers. Language - that which sets us apart from animals and allows us to reason and debate and to learn from our experience - is considered 'irrelevant'. We are in fact now considered to be a peculiar hybrid of the merely animal and the computer. i guess the highest ideal of humanity is now to shuck off the mortal flesh and become incarnated in a computer. The people in charge of education seem embarrassed about anything specifically human such as language, and quite determined to root it which they are succeeding.

  6. "In the past education meant you had the basic tools of civilised thought (literacy & numeracy), and you were introduced to the high points of human intellect & spirit, in the form of great literature such as Shakespeare."

    I hear you can get books and literature on computers now...

  7. it's not the same if it doesn't smell of old leather and dog. Show me the computer that smells like old dog and i'll pay some heed, maybe.

  8. The OLPC's supply chain is essentially open only to those who made "donations." Marvell for WiFi, Quanta for motherboard, Chi Mei for screen, etc.. This is why they can't get their costs lower. If you don't have vendors competing, then your prices will not go down as fast. You did not discuss this massive elephant in the room. Now you have companies like Atheros and Ralink taking their aggressive pricing elsewhere because they didn't want to "donate" $2m to OLPC.

  9. Hi Bryan,

    Here I am, Joe Public, saying, "Excellent article."

    The intranet usage of the computer reminded me of when I was in the 8th grade, and we had the Wang computers here in Lowell MA, donated by that company after An Wang moved its headquarters here.

    Each day, I use the computer to get to information I would never have been able to get at before the internet, in the amounts available online, at my fingetips, like most people commenting in this thread. Such readily-available information upsets myths, old wives tales, hoaxes, propaganda, and so forth, and stimulates creative thinking and discourse. This fingertip connection with people all over the world allows perspectives of the world and humanity, providing ways of upsetting biases and such. The benefit list can go on and on. These is just my beginning couple of thoughts on the subject.

    Somewhere, somehow, the checks on the capitalist system have been pushed aside or non-existent, a serious oversight, and some laws need to be put into place somewhere. The actions of Intel and Microsoft ought to be illegal, punishable by both fines and imprisonment. Imagine blocking such a visionary and philanthropic project. Where are the laws that extract the money from these companies, to now ensure that the vision thrives for all its worth? In a just world, this would be taking place and in a hurry.

    I wonder where Obama and McCain stand on this issue. Hmmm. maybe I'll send the lnk off to them, see what they say.


  10. Below is my note as I wrote it to the John McCain campaign, sent from here:

    The same note went out, to Barack Obama's campaign here:



    I would like to know where John McCain stands on the issue of Microsoft and Intel killing the One Laptop Per Child project. Note this article by Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times:

    Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop

    In Senator McCain's view, should these companies be held liable for the damage they have done against such a project?

    Thank you,

    Rus Bowden
    Lowell MA

  11. So far, Obama for America responded immediately with an auto response a few hours ago, part of which categorized me as one of the individuals that make up the foundation of his campaign.

    I just received a detailed junk e-mail from him, informing me of how to contribute, how to talk him up, how to blog about him, and so forth ad nauseum, as they say. I wrote back:

    Dear Obama for America,

    Please respond to my inquiry, and stop sending junk e-mail. I am trying to decide who to vote for.

    Senator McCain received the same question. Be assured that how you respond will be discussed.

    Rus Bowden

    McCain is ahead in my book right now, even if he is ignoring me. Let's see what a few days bring.

    While I wrote that last sentence, I received another auto response from Obama that begins as follows:

    Thank you for contacting Senator Barack Obama and Obama for America.

    Barack is gratified by the overwhelming response to his candidacy, and we appreciate hearing from you.

    What have we come to?


  12. Hi Bryan,

    Below the squiggled line, is an e-mail addressed to me and signed by Barack Obama. I doubt he had anything immediate to do with it. If he did, then he is disqualified from being a president. I want to believe it was sent by one incompetent staff member, who was drunk last night, and conferred with no one else this morning. But, in reading the response, I cannot help but get the impression of Obama having a string behind him that, in order to hear his voice, you just pull to hear a pre-recorded message.

    This is followed by my response to him, and I forgot to pull a rewritten paragraph. Darn.

    I am sorry to make this an off-topic political thread, but I am following up on this little project. I still have hopes that someone from one of the sides will address the issue. And then it will com etogether. maybe not, though.



    -----Original Message-----
    From: Obama for America
    Sent: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 1:58 pm
    Subject: A response to your message to Obama for America

    Dear Friend,

    Thank you for taking the time to write to me. Your interest in my candidacy and
    participation in the electoral process is important to me and will help shape
    the future of the country.

    The volume of mail we are receiving has exceeded all expectations. I have been
    impressed with the diversity and depth of the comments and questions I receive,
    most of which underscore the significant challenges the next president will
    face. And I have appreciated the candid observations about my campaign and
    policy positions.

    At the core, the 2008 election is about national priorities and national values.
    The 2008 election will not only be a referendum on George W. Bush's agenda over
    the past 8 years; it will also be about who the American people believe has the
    judgment to chart a new course and draw the nation together in pursuit of its
    common purpose.

    President Bush stands behind his decisions to stay the course in Iraq, pursue a
    "go-it-alone" foreign policy, and rely on tax cuts for the wealthiest among us
    to strengthen the economy and improve the lives of working Americans. He is
    unapologetic about allowing industry executives and lobbyists to write
    government policy or injecting politics into the decisions of federal

    I hold an alternate vision – one that invests in education, job creation and the
    environment; seeks to break the hold that oil companies and foreign producers
    have on our economy through conservation and the development and use of
    renewable sources of energy; acknowledges the importance of fundamental civil
    liberties to our society; preserves the integrity of Social Security and
    Medicare; reforms our social contract so that Americans enjoy health and pension
    security in the global economy; and insists that the government live within its
    means and reduce the national debt. I am running for president to build a
    national consensus behind strengthening the economy, improving the quality of
    life for all Americans, including the most vulnerable among us, unleashing the
    creative energy of
    American ingenuity to build a 21st century economy, restoring America's
    reputation and leadership in the world, and defeating the forces of terror.

    Some pundits, and my opponent, like to suggest that my three years in the United
    States Senate are a liability for my campaign. Three years may not be a long
    time, but I can assure you it is long enough to know that things in Washington
    must change. That is why I am running my campaign out of Chicago, not
    Washington, D.C., and concentrating on meeting with and listening to people who
    live outside our nation's capital. And that is why I believe I will be better
    able to break the longstanding grip that vested interests and their lobbyists
    have had on the policy making process in Washington.

    I have been gratified by the amount of grassroots interest my campaign has
    generated. As I travel the country, my campaign headquarters is receiving
    thousands of personal messages a week from people like you. This volume of mail
    reflects the importance individual citizens place on this election. Although I
    am unable to address each of the concerns raised in these communications
    individually, you can be assured that collectively they are helping shape my
    vision of where our country should go.

    Again, thank you for writing, and for voting.


    Barack Obama

    Paid for by Obama for America


    Dear Senator Obama,

    Your response does not answer my question, as must have been clear to you (or whomever responds in your name) when you sent it. It looks like a form letter that any presidential candidate could have auto-generated by a computer. It is not thoughtful.

    Please respond directly to the issue. My question is where do you stand on the situation of .

    Again, here is a link to Bryan Appleyard's column on the matter from the most recent Sunday Times. He is a very intelligent writer, and the way he has laid the issue out should provoke a thoughtful and comprehensive response, one that would never call for a form letter. It will show, not how polished the campaign machinery you have devised and amassed, but how well you will make decisions:

    Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop


    Rus Bowden
    Lowell MA

  13. Hi Bryan,

    This is incredible. Below is my response to yet another disrespectful junk e-mail from Obama, after I asked him not to send me this stuff any more.

    I think he's a donkey. I now find this little exercise revealing of either his character or his inability to run a respectful campaign.

    Below, first will come my response, and then the e-mail that caused it. At the very end was a red button to click that said "donate".

    Note that at least McCain has not been so disrespectfully depending on my being some foolish groupie. Obama, on the other hand, is dependent on foolish groupies to get him elected. It will be interesting to see if targeting the foolish groupie block of voters is effective.



    Dear Barack Obama,

    I asked you to address the issue, and not to send me junk mail. Now, I am getting junk mail that is along the lines of spam. I don't think we need a president who issues spam. Once a request has been made not to receive this junk, it is to be honored.

    I want off this mailing list of yours. Immediately.

    Now, let's discuss an issue instead . . .

    Please respond to the question I asked you. I asked the same question of Senator McCain, and he is not bombarding me with this hype your campaign is issuing. I had hope for your presidency, and am becoming exceedingly disappointed.

    Again, below is the content of my initial e-mail to you. Please respond.


    Rus Bowden
    Lowell MA


    I would like to know where Barack Obama stands on the issue of Microsoft and Intel killing the One Laptop Per Child project. Note this article by Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times:

    Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop

    In Senator Obama's view, should these companies be held liable for the damage they have done against such a project?

    Thank you,

    Rus Bowden
    Lowell MA

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Barack Obama
    To: Rus Bowden
    Sent: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 7:13 pm
    Subject: A few hours from now

    You can make history in the next few hours.

    We're within striking distance of 2 million people owning a piece of this movement.

    Supporters like you are transforming the way political campaigns are run -- and you're sending a powerful message that you're ready for real change in Washington.

    Meanwhile, John McCain is running the same Karl Rove-style campaign that George W. Bush ran four years ago. He's avoiding issues and attempting to tear down our movement with personal attacks and fear mongering.

    Not only has McCain voted with Bush 95% of the time, he's adopted the same political playbook. We've seen it all before, and we can't afford 4 or 8 more years of the same low road tactics and disastrous policies.

    Be one of the 2 million determined to defeat Bush-style fear and division by donating $5 or more to build this movement for change.

    It's up to each of us to make sure that this election brings change to America. And none of us can do it alone.

    Let's show we really are ready for a change from the Bush-Rove politics that McCain stands for.

    I hope you'll make a contribution today to support a new kind of politics and make history with 2,000,000 donors:

    We're all counting on each other to bring the change our country needs.

    Thanks for everything you are doing,


  14. I won't bore you with the details, but I just received more spam from Obama. Part of my response to him was that he would be incapable of being the president.

    Below is the e-mail I then sent off to John McCain.

    By the way, above it says that a David commented. This happens when I am signed into the IBPC e-mail, David being David Ayers the IBPC president. I forgot to sign out before using another tab to post onto blogger



    Dear John McCain,

    A couple nights ago, I asked you to respond in the following request:

    "I would like to know where John McCain stands on the issue of Microsoft and Intel killing the One Laptop Per Child project. Note this article by Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times:

    "Why Microsoft and Intel tried to kill the XO $100 laptop

    "In Senator McCain's view, should these companies be held liable for the damage they have done against such a project?"

    I asked the same of Barack Obama. I have not heard back from you, but I have in irritating fashion from Senator Obama. I am very disappointed in what has transpired. Here is a thread at Bryan Appleyard's blog where I have detailed some of his responses:

    I had met with Bryan Appleyard in Cambridge MA while he was working on the story, and I had received a thoughtful response, this would tell me a lot about the candidates' approaches. Getting a response in the first place, I originally thought, would mean a lot, as such a candidate, whether I agreed with him, would be willing to address an issue with a citizen after reflection.

    But I just received yet another junk e-mail from Barack Obama. I've received several in the past few days, even after telling him to send me no more junk e-mail. This is unnerving, that someone running things as he is, could actually become the president. Indeed, I believe his behavior is skirting the law. My response to him was that we do not need a spammer as a president, and that unfortunately he is incapable of the job.

    My hope is that I am catching you and your staff while you are considering a response to this issue.


    Rus Bowden
    Lowell MA

  15. Actually the reason why Negroproponte had a problem to begin with is because he tried to funnel the entire project through his company to cash in on the project financially, for personal gain.

    MS and Intel saw what he was doing and called him on it by putting countermeasures in place to prevent this from happening.

    They had no problem with the project other than that.

  16. Hi Anonymous,

    When did Negroproponte say that he funneled money through his personal account for personal gain?

    And how did the conversations go between MS and Negroproponte and Intel and Negroproponte?

    This sounds like a completely made-up story, or at least a falsified one. Where did you get this information, from the MS people, or the Intel people, that you would know why they did what they did.


    Note: The junk e-mail from Barack Obama has stopped.

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