The day started with an interesting keynote from Nicholas Negroponte of MIT and the OLPC. Before he got into the details he had a couple of general observations. The one that stuck with me is that modern computers, regardless of OS, are too complex, too fat. They suck more power, and run more slowly and have more bugs than ever before. This kicked off a train of thought that hopefully I’ll get time to come back to tomorrow.
With regard to the eponimous laptop, Nicholas went to great pains to point out that olpc is an educational project not a laptop project – that the goals are about education not producing some new cool tech. He pointed to several experiences he’d had with using computers and programming for education over the last 25 years.
He pointed to the sucess of the Maine laptop program, where they give all schoolchildren a laptop (an iBook I believe) with the result that school crime is down, attendance is up, PTA meeting attendance is way up, discipline is improved, and best of all they had to start turning off the school servers at night. Why? Because the teachers were getting inundated with questions from the kids about their homework.
One of the things that stuck with me is that learning to program is a way of thinking about thinking, and when young people get into it, that way of thinking about thinking can change their perspective. He used the example of a test in school – if you get 8 out of 10 you might feel good, that’s 80%, but if you get into programming and debugging you start to realise that it’s the 20% you got wrong that’s the most intersting bit – or at least the bit most worth investigating. This ties into a Tech Nation podcast where Dr Carol Dweck explained that her research led her to divide the world into two types of mindsets: Fixed and Growth. Fixed mindset kids had their entire self esteem tied into their test results and prefered to retake a test they’d already done, rather than take on a new challenge, whereas kids with a Growth mindset didn’t get upset by ‘failures’, they just saw challenges as a chance to learn new stuff, and were more focused on approach and methodology than ‘results’ which tended to be the focus of the Fixed mi ndset.
Negroponte was full of great quotes. My favourite was (roughly) “I’m not interesting in training. Training is what we do for dogs, I’m more interested in teaching people to learn”.
After the keynote I headed down to the show floor and the .org pavillion to check in with Luis at the Gnome booth. Just as we got started alarms started going off and we noticed a huge plume of smoke rising from the Unisys stand. Apparantly some kind of electrical fault caused a fire. It didn’t last long and was all over by the time the Firemen arrived. Others have reported about this and taken photos. I had my camera in my bag but too busy laughing. I think Luis took some snaps – it would be nice to post them up as a GIF I think 😉
I had a bit of time to wander around the stands and chat to some people. Chris Toshok of the Mono project showed me the new MonoDevelop that includes the Stetic interface designer. It looked really nice – seemed to bring some of the same niceness that Delphi used to bring to Windows client development (a long time ago). I think it will be really interesting when it finally comes out.
Had a long chat to the guys at CentricCRM. It seems like they have a really nice product – what stood out for me wass the customisable workflow that could be built into the system. I think this is a pretty big need and I look forward to investigating some more, especially the community around the product and the licensing and business models.
One of the guys on the KDE booth (next to the Gnome booth) brought in his pet chameleon and this was definitely the booth babe of the show.
In the afternoon I went along to listen to some of the ‘Government Day’ talks. Bruce Momjian gave a great talk, and quite persuasively made the point that you will end up using open-source software, it’s just a question of when, not if.
On the way back I finally managed to get a hold of the fabled MBTA weekly combo pass – I had to go to Park Street Outbound ticket seller – the lady in the booth on the inbound platform wouldn’t or couldn’t sell it to me. I’m not sure why they make it so dificult to buy these tickets.