Few things have excited me as much recently as that of the OLPC project. Since last we talked about it, I've donated another to the efforts. This means that I'll have two of them to play with, which I figure is essential to seeing how the mesh networking functions. I also figure that when the nerds begin doing really awesome things with them, people who are kicking themselves for not having the foresight to have gotten in on the ground floor may suddenly be willing to pay considerably more for them than those of use who donated did. This, of course, comes after the joy of knowing that I've helped two kids get one.
Before I get into trying again to explain just how awesome the project is -- despite all the negative attention the press, Intel, Microsoft, John Dvorak, and Digg commenters have been lavishing upon it -- I've a couple links for you.
First up, from the BBC: A child's view of the $100 laptop. In that story a virtually computer-illiterate 9-year-old in the UK gets his hands on an OLPC and talks about all the things he was able to do with it WITHOUT HELP from an adult. And how fun and creativity-inspiring it is, despite the abundance of video gaming systems he owns. Now imagine a 9-year-old kid who has never had an electronic device before, and now suddenly has one that can help bolster creativity in many, many ways. Remember how cool it was when you first exchanged instant messages with people from all over the world via your computer? Now imagine being able to do that from your bug-laden tent, and being able to get skills and contacts that might be able to get you out of the dirt into a job in a more technological world at some point in the future. I just don't see how people can bad-mouth the amazing thing the OLPC people are doing.
Next: for those of you that've donated to the project and are anxiously awaiting the shipment of yours, I learned that the OLPC is maintaining a delivery estimate on their site without prominently linking to it. Click on over to Give One Get One Shipping Information to see when you can expect to get yours. (My first one is in batch two; my second is in batch 3.)
On to my excitement. Remember in Orson Scott Card's novel "Ender's Game," the futuristic space-school where the students' textbooks and assignments were all on digital tablet-thingies, with which they could communicate amongst their peers via text chat and email whilst working on said assignments from their living areas? And how they could play learning games to help them unlock what's inside themselves while having fun? I would have killed to have something like that when I was in grade school and actively wished for such a thing a little later in life. Now, thanks to the work of many individuals who came together under the OLPC initiative, kids in some of the worst parts of the world are going to have EXACTLY THAT -- minus the zero-gravity and attacking aliens, natch.
If you want to help one of these kids have something nice in their otherwise unpleasant-seeming (to this westerner, anyway) life, you can still donate to the project over at laptopgiving.org. If you donate before December 31st, you'll be able to get one yourself. This helps in two ways: the Give One portion puts one of these laptops into a kids hands, while the Get One part helps increase the production quantities. This helps makes things easier and cheaper for the manufacturer, which means it's good for everyone involved. $200 of the $399 cost is tax-deductable (here in America, anyway), and I'm confident that post-Dec. 31st you'll be able to recoup the rest by selling it to some other nerd -- assuming, of course, that you won't find a tiny, low-power, uber-portable eBook reader/word processor/email/drawing/web-surfing machine useful yourself. (If you're outside of America, you will require a US postal address to get one. If you're otherwise interested in participating but don't have such an address, drop me a line and I bet we could work something out.)
I've been following the One Laptop Per Child project for a couple years now, and have anxiously awaited the day I'd be able to own one myself. A couple of days ago they started taking orders for their Give One Get One promotion, wherein you can spend $399 to get an OLPC computer for yourself, one for a child in a developing country, and also year's worth of T-Mobile HotSpot WiFi usage to boot. (The latter is a $350 value in and of itself.) Also, $199 of the total cost is tax-deductable, seeing's how you spent it to help fund a non-profit.
Aside from the coolness of having a tiny, rugged, green, Linux PC that uses 1/10th the energy consumption of an ordinary laptop, it also serves as a WiFi router and its swivel screen allows it to be configured as a laptop, an eBook reader, or a hand-held gaming system. It also has a built-in camera and microphone, and a huge multi-use touchpad that allows you to not only move the mouse cursor, but also draw and write as well.
The user interface on it has been designed from the ground up to be intuitively operated by those with zero computer experience, and it comes with software to do all sorts of fun things that I'd have killed to be able to do as a child. Animation, video editing, web browsing, creative writing, drawing, games, etc. All of the included apps are written in Python, and there's even a dedicated keyboard key to display (and edit) the source code of any currently running program. (How cool is that?) There are a bunch more applications currently in development specifically for the OLPC system, but I don't see why you couldn't run any old Linux/X11/GTK apps on it with very minimal hassle.
If, like me, you want to do something to help make the world a better place -- and are also an insufferable nerd who feels compelled to own gadgets and make them do things which they mightn't have been entirely intended -- the "Give One Get One" deal is a pretty darn good choice. Orders can be placed until November 26th.
Shawn P. from Ohio dropped me a line yesterday, letting me know that some "wacky radio deejays (boing!)" in Columbus are implementing my Toys for Tatas idea:
It's put on by a local radio station, and from my understanding you drive into this heated tent and give the girls a gift (for needy families) and then they all show you their - ahem - "tatas", because you can say that on the air.
Apparently this chain of strip clubs called Rick's Cabaret does something by the same name.
It is unclear at this time whether they came about this idea legitimately, or blatantly stole it from me. I don't think I need to tell you which I think it is.
Hopefully next year I'll remember the idea so I can get a jump on trying to set something up before the hustle and bustle of crazy peoplereally crazy people completely saps my desire to expend any kind of effort.
I only have a minute, so I'll just lay out the basis for my idea so that you might give me some input to help form the rest of it.
My idea is..... Toys for Tits.
Iwant to try talking some of the fancier "gentlemen's clubs" in the Portland, OR area into doing some kind of toy drive for needy kids this holiday season. Perhaps offering discounted admission or lap dances in exchange for gift donations or something. Like I said, I haven't really... fleshed... out the idea yet -- basically I got to "Toys for Tits" and then began to think about tits... you know how it is.
I was also thinking "Toys for TaTas", since that name could actually be said on the evening news...
Anyway: thoughts? Has some other genius already come up with this and I just don't know about it due to not frequenting that sort of establishment (more than a couple times a month anway. OK -- fine. A week.)?
Like many people, I am not a very big fan of Christmas. It isn't actually Christmas that is the problem, it is the extreme over commercialization of the entire Holiday Season that has caused me to hate. Stores are too busy, traffic is nearly impossible to deal with, and most confusingly, people become more self-centered and selfish the closer you get to Christmas. This amuses me to no end, because really the point of them flocking to retail centers in droves is to buy things for other people, yet they are doing it in completely selfish assholish ways: fighting with each other for the last copy of The Oblivion Society, sitting in a parking area waiting 10 minutes for the elderly couple in the Buick LeSabre to exit the "perfect parking spot" (stopping all traffic in the entire lot in the process), being rude when people who need to get by them in stores ask them nicely to move, etc. In short, this season turns people into assholes.
As you can probably guess, this has caused me to rethink my Holiday Season shopping strategy somewhat. The past few years I've decided that the majority of my Christmas shopping was going to be devoted to people that actually appreciate and deserve the time and money I'm spending. Am I talking about my family and friends? Nope. Sure, my family and friends probably would enjoy the somewhat inane material goods I would buy for them, but would they really appreciate it? I know from personal experience that most of the gifts I've been given weren't as appreciated by me as they would have been by someone else, someone who can't afford to just go out and buy those inane things for themselves. I'm talking about people who are in bad situations and possibly might not have an enjoyable Christmas without my efforts.
There are quite a number of factors that can cause children to not get Christmas presents on Christmas, some which are the fault of their shitty parents, some because their good parents have been down on their luck. Some don't even have parents to get them presents. As none of these factors can be controlled in any way by the children forced to live in such a situation, I feel it is important that they get to have a good Christmas anyway (while they are still young enough to not be overcome with the wanton over commercialization of it all.) Since I have decided to reshift the focus of my gift giving towards these less fortunate children, almost all the budget that has in past years been allotted to getting my parents the perfect restaurant gift certificate is now going to make sure there are at least a few bright-eyed smiles on Christmas morning.
Since I am quite possibly the laziest person in the world, I've opted to use the "Giving Tree" method of gift dispersal. If you are unfamiliar with the Giving Tree, it is essentially a Christmas tree decorated with tags instead of ornaments, and you can find them in any mall, fire station, church, Salvation Army, and a multitude of other places. Each tag has information about a specific gift that a specific needy child would like to have, specifying the age and sex of the child, along with whatever will make them happy come Christmas morning. All one has to do is grab a tag off the tree, buy the gift, and take both the tag and the gift to a drop off location where volunteers will wrap it and make sure it gets to the proper home come Christmas. In the case of malls where the tree is located, you can simply drop the tag and gift off at the Gift Wrapping Center in the mall. This is the easiest Christmas shopping you will ever do. Also, if you are concerned with such things, the drop off point can give you a receipt for deducting these gifts from your taxes.
I would like to encourage each and every person to go find a Giving Tree, and at the very least read some of the tags. What I always find striking is just how realistic these children are in what they ask for. I'm sure having crappy Christmases in the past have helped this realism, but it is still refreshing to see kids wanting things that aren't ponies, xboxes, cars etc. There is a tag for every budget; most items aren't expensive at all, they're things like a CD or a sweater, which you can go above and beyond by getting 2 sweaters, or a gift card for multiple CDs. Even the most budget-strapped Christmas shopper can afford to take at least one name off the tree, maybe two if they buy dad the imitation leather wallet instead of the leather one they buy him every year. When you explain to your friends and family that you've spent most of your Christmas money on needy children instead of them, they will be so amazed by what a great human being you are that they won't mind a bit. Maybe some of them might do the same thing next year...
This year, why don't you make your time spent shopping among the selfish assholes worthwhile by helping to provide a nice Christmas to some people who might not have one. It will make you feel good, it will make them feel good, and it will make (Jesus/Santa/Jewey McJewerston/Kwanzaa Karl) feel good too.
Today I got a letter from my mother, and in it she included a newspaper clipping about how evil Wal-Mart is because, get this, "it reminded her of me." Apparently my ranting and ravings in the past have made some kind of impact on her, because she assures me that she "hardly ever goes there anymore." Now though, she tells me, it is Target that she has moved to the top of her list of places not to shop for political reasons. Her reasoning? Target won't allow the Salvation Army's bell ringers out front. Now if you ask me, that's all the more reason to shop at Target. Wait, wait, I don't hate poor people do I? Please allow me to explain.
While the Salvation Army most likely does some very good work in helping others, they fucking piss me off. You know those miserable looking people standing in the cold ringing the bells in your face to guilt entice you into dropping your change into the shiny red repository every time you have the gall to walk into a business establishment around the holidays? The Salvation Armypays them to do that when there aren't enough people willing to do it for free*. Wha? They are paying perfectly good minimum wage to have someone beg other people for the occasional handful of change? Does that sound like a responsible use of TAX FREE money to you? Nope, me either. There's no fucking way I'm going to give them any of my money when I know they're just throwing it away in purpose-defeating wastefulness. This brings me to the fact that most retail establishments have a "no soliciting" policy -- if you or I decided we were going to stand outside and beg people for money, they'd be giving us the bums rush, lickety-split. In past years, Target has allowed the Salvation Army to solicit outside the store, directly in violation of their own perfectly reasonable rule, but now that they're onto the Salvation Army, they have decided to no longer break this own rule. So of course everyone is all up in arms because Target has the gall to turn those fuckers away. I say, "way to go Target. I'm glad you grew some balls."
That brings me to another charity that I've had increasing difficulty in not contributing to: the Susan G. Koman Cancer Foundation. Wait, what? Do I not support ending breast cancer? Do I not want people to die of cancer? In actuality, the answer to both those questions is "yes." Wait, I mean "no", those double negatives get me every time. I want the work on a cure to progress, it's just that I take issue with the foundation itself. Every year they use the Race For the Cure to raise awareness and fundage to support breast cancer research. I think that is great. People need to know this stuff, and people want to help fund it. What could be the problem then? Well, the problem is that the Susan G. Koman Cancer Foundation only allows women to participate in this event, thus denying 50% of their potential funcraising capacity. There are plenty of men that have breast cancer who would love to participate in this event and raise money, but they are denied. There are man, many men whose wives were taken from them by cancer that would love to participate and raise money for research, but these fuckers won't let them. "No man could possibly know the effects of breast cancer." Yeh, tell that to the people I just mentioned.
Everywhere I turn, products are now labeled with pink Susan G. Koman ribbons, proudly proclaiming that some percentage of the purchase price is being donated to the foundation. Well, it looks like there will be no more Yoplait for me. What, Duracell is now supporting them too? Guess I gotta switch to Energizer. Wait, that damn bunny is pink, does that mean something, or is it just pink? Arg!
The way I see it, any charitable group that actively prevents people from helping them earn money (or pays people more to beg for it than they can possibly collect) needs a swift kick in the ass. If they have the gall to turn away money and then go out and beg people for more, then they need to be taught a lesson. I can think of no better way to deliver that kick than by telling them that they aren't getting a fucking dime until they start making some sense. And you companies hoping to sell more product by getting all the breast cancer sympathizers to buy yours instead of the competition? Shame on you. You'll get no money from me either.
*: Have you ever been an unpaid bell ringer? How many people do you personally know that have? That ought to be a pretty good measure of how frequently the bell ringers you do see are actually paid.