Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Laptop per Child: Laptops Offer High-tech Hope in Developing Countries and for Your Own Child

The goal of the One Laptop per Child organization is to provide specially designed, low-cost laptops to children in the developing world. Organization founder Nicholas Negroponte details the campaign and the "Give One Get One" effort in the United States and Canada on the NewsHour.

Bottom Line: Get one for your own child and donate one to a child in need. Scroll down for pictures.

Don't have time to listen? Get a transcript of the NewsHour audio orginally found HERE:

JEFFREY BROWN: It has neon green ear-like antennas and a white plastic frame. It may look like a toy, but it's intended to change the world.

Called the XO, it was developed by the One Laptop per Child project, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to bring low-cost computers to children in the developing world. Pilot programs like this one in Brazil are underway.

Water-resistant and drop-proof, the laptop can run in places where power is scarce, with a long-life battery and a crank. It offers both wireless Internet and the so-called Mesh Network, meaning it can connect with other XO laptops nearby.

It offers word processing and Web browsing, along with a video camera and microphone. And while hopes were sky high at the beginning, getting governments to sign on has turned out to be a slow process.

Nicholas Negroponte is the founder and chairman of One Laptop per Child. He's on leave from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was the director of its media lab, and he joins me now.

Welcome to you.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE, One Laptop Per Child: Hello.

JEFFREY BROWN: What is the problem that this is intended to solve, and how does it do it?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: The problem is poverty, and the idea is to eliminate poverty through education, because 50 percent of the children in this world don't get education. So we're talking about vast numbers -- 1.2 billion children in total in the age category that we call primary school -- half of them are not getting education.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in the introduction I listed some of the things that your computer could do. What was the key thing, in terms of technology, that you had to get right to make this workable?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Jeff, keep in mind that the kids that we are targeting are, first of all, in very remote parts of very poor countries. They have no electricity. In many cases, they don't even have a school. It's under a tree.

So we have to build a laptop that, first of all, doesn't plug into the wall, doesn't have an AC adapter, so it has to work with human power. You can crank it; you can do other things, or very inexpensive solar panels. So power was a very important element.

Needed to work in the sunlight. You had to use it as an electronic book and be able to read it outdoors, as well as indoors. It had to create a network, because all the kids in the village -- there is no phone system or hot spot. They have to make the network automatically with the laptops. Just those three things forced us to do something from the bottom up.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how long did that take you to work the technology?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: It took about two years and roughly 500 people doing things in different parts of the world, and we're in mass production today.

Obstacles along the way

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you have been quoted recently as saying that you're disappointed, in part, by the response. You run into some obstacles. It looks as though some governments are wondering whether this is the best way to spend their money.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: My disappointment isn't in the response. My disappointment has been, perhaps, in me misjudging the difference between a head of state saying that he'll do it, shaking hands, photo opportunities, all sorts of publications and announcements, and then actually getting a $200 million check in the mail. So there's a bigger goal.

JEFFREY BROWN: You've actually had to be sort of an international salesman for this project.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: I've traveled literally every day of the past two years.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I read a quote from an Indian minister. He said, "We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools." Now, how much do you run into that kind of sentiment?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: We run into that sentiment particularly from ministers, ministers of education, whose job it is to basically run schools. Now, that minister of education didn't take into consideration that half his children aren't in school.

Now, you can solve that by building more schools and training more teachers. But what you can also do in parallel -- not to exclude building schools and training teachers -- is to leverage the children themselves.

JEFFREY BROWN: These are the kinds of conversations you have around the world with government figures?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Absolutely. It's exactly this kind of conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Where to put the resources.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Where to put the resource. And what you do is you take this resource and you spread it over five years, and so you look at it as something like $40 per year. What's the best way to spend $40 per year?

JEFFREY BROWN: But where does a laptop go in the hierarchy of needs in countries like this? I mean, I was also reading about some aid organizations, and they wonder, if you're in a country where the basic need of fresh water, for example, clean water, what's the argument then?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: The argument is very simple. Just substitute the word "education" for the word "laptop," and you'll never have the argument again.

JEFFREY BROWN: Don't think of this as a machine.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: This is not, if you think of it … if you use the word "laptop," then people think maybe it's like an iPod, and do kids really need an iPod? Think of it as education.

Now, this is a school in the box, as well as something that the child can use seamlessly at home. Because it's one laptop per child, the child has it 24 by 7. Now, if you think of school, under the best conditions, excellent teacher, really good school, the developing world, it's two shifts.

So the child spends 14.5 hours a week in the perfect classroom -- which is rarely the case. And here what we do is you have the child that takes it home, uses it for music, uses it for games, uses it for browsing, introduces it to the family, leaks it to the culture, and the children are the agents of change.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the content? What is the content that goes on this that educates the child?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Gutenberg did not write the books, OK, so we want to encourage content, and we're encouraging wiki textbooks.

JEFFREY BROWN: Explain what you mean by wiki.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Well, wiki is just that it's contributed by the community, that what is written is written by everybody, not just experts. And the concept of the students and the teachers creating content is a very important one.

'Give One, Get One'
JEFFREY BROWN: This project program that you have, the "Give One, Get One" program, allows Americans to buy two, give one to a child in the developing world. Now that by itself, I suppose, isn't going to solve the larger problems. What is that to do, a jump start of the whole process?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: What Give One, Get One does, it's like starting an avalanche. You don't need much snow to create a big avalanche. So it's our belief -- and this is why we've turned to the American people and said, "Join us. For $399, you can get one and give one."

And at the end of this, we'll see how many we have, and we can go into the poorest countries -- we've already made commitments to Rwanda, Haiti, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and we've gone into places that are landlocked or very, very poor. And it's not a $100 laptop or a $188 laptop. It's a zero-dollar laptop in the Give One, Get One program.

JEFFREY BROWN: I'll give you a chance to let people know how to do it. How do they find it?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Well, you can go to what's called Or, if you forget that, you can just go to, which is our home site, learn more about us, and it will tell you how to get to the giving.

JEFFREY BROWN: Speaking of the price, this was touted as the $100 laptop at the beginning. Now it's closer to $200. Are you fairly confident that that's where it will settle? Are the finances there to -- I mean, is that how it's going to work?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: It will settle at $100 or less. We launch at a slightly higher level, just because the economies of scale aren't there and other things that have pushed the price up. Then what we have pledged to do is to not add features. In other words, there isn't going to be a model with this extra feature and that extra feature.

What's going to happen is it's going to stay constant. The price is going to go down. We think it will take about two years to hit $100 and then continue on below it. And when we get down to about $50, we might think of adding some features.

JEFFREY BROWN: Finally, you've set such lofty goals, I asked you at the beginning what this is about, and you said poverty. We're talking about education of millions of children. How will you judge success?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: We will judge success by the number of children who are getting primary education. In some of our test sites around the world, we have found that the second year we run the pilot project, 100 percent more children come to school.

And what that's telling us is very important. The 6-year-olds are telling the other 6-year-olds in town that school is cool. And we think that very often kids in the developing world drop out of school because they have to help their parents in the field. Rubbish. That's rarely the case. What's usually happening is they drop out of school because it's boring or it's irrelevant, and we want to change that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the laptop is helping make that case?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Oh, it's completely changed it. In the schools where this has been going on, and in some cases in Cambodia it's been going on for four or five years, all the children continue, continue on. I mean, the passion for learning, the joy of learning, and just the window of opportunity that this provides is boundless.

JEFFREY BROWN: And your job now is to continue going around the world to just try to make that case?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: Well, now the job is … the laptop has to speak for itself, and I have to stop traveling.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Nicholas Negroponte, thanks very much.


RAY SUAREZ: A follow-up to Jeff's conversation. The One Laptop Per Child Foundation announced today it plans to extend the "Give One, Get One" program throughout the holiday season until December 31st.

Monday, November 26, 2007 - new Web 2.0 tool for creative file sharing

Found this great FREE tool thanks to the Attack of the Show podcast I listen to which is focused on Web Tools.

Think YouTube for PowerPoint and PDF files. You can check mine out here:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sharing Thoughts #8

Happiness is never stopping to think if you are.
— Palmer Sondreal
1930s American Composer Lyricist

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NASA Langley Research Center

Bert and I had the distinct pleasure of touring NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton VA recently. Our excellent guides were from the Office of Strategic Communications and Education. LaRC is 800 acres of cutting edge aerospace technology. It has been in existence since 1917, when it was established as the nation's first civilian aeronautics laboratory.

We were amazed and awed by the National Transonic Facility (wind tunnel) and other test facilities, like the Gantry (pictured above) where testing of lunar airbags is taking place. Yes, lunar airbags.

Langley is working on the next generation of spacecraft for missions to the Moon and to Mars, the Constellation Project, and using the newest technologies. Target date 2014, not so far away.

We were impressed by the engineers we met as well and appreciated the time they took to explain, to laymen like us, on what new and fascinating projects they were working. Can't wait to share the NASA sticker and pin with the kids, especially Bert's son, Bertel, who at 8 is already deep into space exploration via his favorite website

Still pinching ourselves that we actually live here!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion

Had a discussion recently with a sub-committee I head for HRTC's Defense & Homeland Security Consortium with regard to developing and marketing a new brand concept. The subject of focus groups and surveys and the like came up, and interestingly enough, the time and effectiveness dilemma that surrounds them.

One of the committee members volunteered her company's services and a technique with which I was unfamiliar: Open Space Technology, a simple way to run more productive meetings and a powerful way to lead any kind of organization. While OST sounds a bit "new-agey" to me, it certainly has its merits.

The most interesting thing came as follow-up after the meeting via email (thanks Suzanna!) and refers to Parkinson's law (akin to Murphy's Law). This is so simple, it's borderline silly, but oh so hitting the nail on the proverbial head.

"Work expands to fill the time available for its completion" a satiric proverb coined in 1955 by British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909–1993), which came to be known as his most famous “Parkinson's Law”. It points out that people usually take all the time allotted (and frequently more) to accomplish any task.

Parkinson's law
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Parkinson's Law as commonly referenced states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." A more succinct phrasing also commonly used is "work expands to fill the time available." It was first articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, appearing as the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955, later reprinted together with other essays in the book Parkinson's Law: The Pursuit of Progress (London, John Murray, 1958). He derived the dictum from his extensive experience in the British Civil Service.

The current form of the law is not that which Parkinson refers to by that name in the article. Rather, he assigns to the term a mathematical equation describing the rate at which bureaucracies expand over time.

Much of the essay is dedicated to a summary of purportedly scientific observations supporting his law, such as the increase in the number of employees at the Colonial Office while Britain's overseas empire declined. He explains this growth by two forces: (1) "An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals" and (2) "Officials make work for each other." He notes in particular that the total of those employed inside a bureaucracy rose by 5-7% per year "irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done."

In time, however, the first-referenced meaning of the phrase has dominated, and sprouted several corollaries: for example, the derivative relating to computers: "Data expands to fill the space available for storage". "Parkinson's Law" could be generalized further still as: "The demand upon a resource always expands to match the supply of the resource." An extension is often added to this, stating that "the reverse is not true." This generalization has become very similar to the economic law of cost and demand; that the lower the cost of a service or commodity, the greater the quantity demanded.

Parkinson also proposed a rule about the efficiency of administrative councils. He defined a coefficient of inefficiency with the number of members as the main determining variable.

Parkinson's Law is applied in many arenas of human endeavour.
In Project Management, individual tasks with end-dates rarely finish early because the people doing the work expand the work to finish approximately at the end-date. Coupled with the Student syndrome, individual tasks are nearly guaranteed to be late. Note that this law has been contested as false and counter-productive to project management. (See Peopleware.)

Individuals see this arise in their daily activities as well. No matter how many things one has on their plate, they all tend to get done. This leads to the canard, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person" because it appears they are better at "time management." While this may be true, it is just that they are doing more and the work is not expanding indefinitely to fill non-busy time.

As an individual's income rises, their costs of living and lifestyle increases to meet their income level.

Part of Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s observations are that once a core organisation exists, it will perpetuate and expand itself regardless of the reason it came into being.

Several other Laws attributed to Parkinson:

"Parkinson's Law" = Work expands to fill the time available.

"Parkinson's Second Law" = Expenditures rise to meet income.

"Parkinson's Third Law" = Expansion means complexity; and complexity decay.

"Parkinson's Fourth Law" = The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.

"Parkinson's Fifth Law" = If there is a way to delay an important decision the good bureaucracy, public or private, will find it.

Parkinson's Law of Science" = The progress of science varies inversely with the number of journals published.

"Parkinson's Law of Delay" = Delay is the deadliest form of denial.

"Parkinson's Law of Meetings" = The time spent in a meeting on an item is inversely propotional to its value (up to a limit).

"Parkinson's Law of 1000" = An enterprise employing more than 1000 people becomes a self-perpetuating empire, creating so much internal work that it no longer needs any contact with the outside world.

"Parkinson's Law of Data" = Data expands to fill the space available.

Parkinson's Law of Data deserves some explanatory expanding itself; buying more memory encourages the use of more memory-intensive techniques. It has been observed since the mid-1980s that the memory usage of evolving systems tends to double roughly once every 18 months. Fortunately, memory density available for constant dollars also tends to about double once every 18 months (see Moore's Law); unfortunately, the laws of physics guarantee that the latter cannot continue indefinitely.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Warning: This is long (7 minutes) but well worth watching to the end. A great tribute for Veteran's Day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Branding = Marketing? Myths that can hurt your image

The term "branding" is so ingrained into everyday marketing conversation. Despite this widespread use of the term, there's a lack of understanding of what a brand is and what it isn't.

Some of the myths...and the facts:

Myth: Marketing and branding are the same thing.

Fact: Marketing (and advertising) sells stuff. A brand is a reflection of everything an organization is, but most importantly, its' reputation. A brand is that for which you stand; it's your image.

Myth: Once you have a logo and tagline, you have your brand.

Fact: A logo and tagline are merely visual representations of the brand. Your brand is a much deeper representation of your organization's core values.

Myth: Branding is the responsibility of your communications and/or marketing staff.

Fact: Branding is the responsibility of everyone in the organization, from CEO to board members to operational staff to your receptionist. In fact, think of the person who answers your phones as your "Director of First Impressions".

Myth: It takes a big budget to brand your organization.

Fact: If you take proper advantage of your current resources, you might not need much of a budget to better brand your organization.

A strong brand is a valuable asset for your organization. It creates a relationship with your target audience. It ensures loyalty. It minimizes the competition. It creates confidence and reduces risk. It enhances the self-image of those who associate with you.

Remember that your brand belongs to all of your stakeholders. Make sure they understand it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bringing back the "local" in local broadcasting

The ‘local’ in local broadcasting: Public stations struggle to produce quality programming on tight budgets

A snippet of the story by Chris Graham

I had an inkling as to what the meeting was going to be about - just from the tone of the e-mail. The station management at WVPT, a public-television station based in Harrisonburg (VA) whose audience over the air extends from Charlottesville to Winchester and by satellite stretches into the Washington, D.C., market, had requested a meeting with me to talk about my fledgling monthly TV show, “Virginia Viewpoints.” I had been waiting for the ball to drop for several months by this point - nobody had stepped up to sponsor the show, and really it had seemed to me that money issues were killing the station all around. ...


Budget issues are nothing new in the public-broadcasting business - it seems that station managers in both public-radio and public-TV are all working on margins that are ever-shrinking, for a variety of reasons.

“The state and federal funds have tended to not grow over time - so you have to find ways to raise money either from the contribution side of things, whether it’s individuals or corporations, or through whatever other means you can try and come up with,” said Curtis Monk, the president and CEO of the Richmond-based Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corp., which operates three television stations and two radio stations under the Community Idea Stations umbrella in Central Virginia and Northern Virginia.


Former WVPT president and general manager Bert Schmidt is in something of a different galaxy now than he was when he was back in the Valley - now the president and general manager of the Hampton Roads-based WHRO, he oversees radio and TV operations that are housed under one umbrella and that have a $13 million annual budget to work with, more than four times what he had back in Harrisonburg.

And yet Schmidt still can’t go out and spend money like it’s going out of circulation.

“You’ve still got to be smart,” said Schmidt, who - full disclosure - was the person who hired me to produce and host “Virginia Viewpoints” during his tenure at WVPT.

“Yes, we have certain advantages here. WHRO is in a much more populated area. It’s the 40th-largest TV market in the U.S. - versus Harrisonburg, which is 186th. So there are obviously a lot more sources for funding than Harrisonburg ever had,” Schmidt said.

“And having both TV and radio is a wonderful combination. Right now, we have four TV stations - if you include our high-definition, kids channel and how-to channel - and we have two broadcast radio stations, a pure classical and a NPR news and public affairs. And two digital radio stations as well. Plus we have extensive educational services that are used statewide. So WHRO is fortunate to be in a position to have a lot more products to be able to raise money for,” Schmidt said.

“Of course, it costs us a lot of money to be able to provide those products,” Schmidt said. “But being able to house them all under one roof allows the administrative costs, the fund-raising costs, to be spread over all those products - as opposed to being at a smaller station, where you have just TV, and all the fund-raising and incidental costs have to be covered from just that one TV station.”


Of note is that even with that much, much larger operating budget, WHRO was by and large out of the local-production game before Bert Schmidt’s arrival earlier this year.

That interests me if only because it seems to me that the lifeblood of a public-broadcasting station - radio or TV - would be its local programming.


“The cost of doing a show in Harrisonburg is pretty similar to what it is in Norfolk or anywhere else. The odds of me being able to find funding for a similar type show in Hampton Roads is greater when you have Fortune 100 companies based in the area. The advantage is that the likelihood of finding funders for it in the Hampton Roads region is much greater than being in Harrisonburg,” Bert Schmidt said, comparing his current situation at WHRO to what he used to have to deal with in the Valley at WVPT.

And even with all the talk about how expensive local shows are, “You don’t have to spend six figures every time you want to do a local show,” Schmidt said.

“That may be the easiest way to win a bunch of awards - but I’m much more interested in creating programming that is a benefit to the community,” Schmidt said.

“The important thing is you have to have your ears to the community - and hopefully do programming that’s relevant,” Schmidt said. “When I was at WVPT, we started ‘Virginia Farming’ - which has gotten great funding, and continues to get great funding. We’re doing a similar approach in Hampton Roads - focusing on programming that’s relevant to the community that surrounds the military, the African-American population, both of which are significant in this region."

“We have several TV shows in the development stage right now - and it’s not because we have this huge budget. In fact, the budget that we have is already committed to a lot of different things. So we will take a similar approach to trying to be smart with programming - to try to talk to the community and understand what the community wants and needs,” Schmidt said.


However you slice it all up, though, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line - and when money is tight, “the first thing that’s going to go at any station is its local programming,” Bert Schmidt said.

Schmidt understands why management at WVPT did what they did after his departure - and as somebody who was directly affected by the cuts that came down this summer, I do, too.

Read the full story HERE.