XO 1.5 Units on the Way

I got a tracking number and a couple of XO 1.5 units are on the way.  Here’s my request, with identifying information redacted.

1.  Project Title & Shipment Detail

Name of Project:  Birmingham XO Evaluation and Development

Shipping Address:


Number of XO 1.5 units requested to borrow:  2

Loan Length:  9-12 months

2.  Team Participants


Employer:  TALA Professional Services (contractor working with Birmingham City Schools)

Past Experience/Qualifications:


I’ve been providing technical support here in Birmingham since the inception of the XO implementation here in early 2008.  To say that I’ve been obsessed with XOs ever since would be putting it mildly.  In fact, I exclusively used an XO for all my portable computing needs up until my recent acquisition of an Asus eeePC.  As an aside, my colleagues find it astonishing how fast I can touch type on the XO’s keyboard.

One of the reasons why I’ve tried booting so many things on the XO (from NAND, SD cards, and USB drives) like Ubuntu, DebXO, Gentoo, Puppy, the XS, and even compiled a kernel for a custom Debian debootstrap install with IceWM on a jffs2 image (my current favorite) is because I know the XO can handle a lot more than most folks are aware of.  Not to mention the older kids here are quickly aging out of Sugar and would probably like to have a more “grown-up” looking installation.  Yes, I am very excited about the Paraguay build and recently installed os300py for a small group of rising 6th graders at a summer “XO Camp” a few weeks ago.  It was amazing how they took to it!

I’m not a programmer, but have been a Linux user for over a decade now.  I’m no guru by any means, but I’ve turned out to be the only person with any Linux experience who consistently and constantly assists the stakeholders here.  My previous professional experience was as a “Business Systems Analyst” for a telecom company in Dallas, where, among other responsibilities, I gathered requirements from end users for the software developers, did development testing, wrote documentation, trained end users, and offered ongoing support.

Speaking of testing and development, one of the best things I ever did was set up the XS in my house a couple of years ago.  I went on xochat.org and recruited a few users to help me test jabber and they’ve been on ever since.  I started off with just a static IP, but eventually purchased a domain name:  alabamaxo.org.  As we’ve matured as a user group, my XS has become quite the sandbox.  I installed WordPress for our own private blog, Laconica (now known as StatusNet) for a microblog, Teamspeak for audio chat, Icecast for video streaming from the XO’s camera (which was very slow and buggy), and of course quite a few folks have ssh accounts.  Once we were playing around with dsh (dancer’s shell / distributed shell) and a couple of my users loved startling me by making all the XOs in my house talk with espeak.  I’ve also set up boa or lighttpd with some cgi scripts on XOs in my house, opening the port up to the outside.  My users love being able to click on a link to take and view a picture or play an internet radio station for me.

I’m probably digressing quite a bit, but the XO has truly been a joy to work and play with and the possibilities are almost endless, despite the limited hardware.  In fact, I think the limited hardware on the XO-1 lends itself to such creativity and community.  “What fun things can we hack up with the XS and XOs tonight?”

Of course, I don’t install “hacky” things for end users on the XOs and XSs out in the field.  However, I was faced with some initial stakeholder requirements on the XO such as Adobe Flash and non-free codecs.  During the very early days of Sugar, the Browse Activity was deemed unacceptable as it didn’t handle the pop up logins found on some frequently used sites.  I ended up customizing a build for the users here with Firefox instead of Browse (the two were incompatible at the time), Adobe Flash, all the non-free codecs, and the mozilla mplayer plugin.  During the aforementioned trial of the Paraguay build with rising 6th graders, a teacher complained that it didn’t play video files seamlessly in Firefox like the old “Birmingham build” does.  I had to explain that, on the old “Birmingham build,” I installed and optimized mplayer for the XO, set up the plugin, created a symlink to /media in /home/olpc and put that in the bookmarks, so that’s why you can access video files easily from a USB drive and they play so nicely in Firefox.  Of course Adobe Flash doesn’t work well and I told folks it never would, particularly with intensive Flash games or YouTube, though they insisted on having it.  At least I put the Flashblock plugin on Firefox so browsing wouldn’t be quite as painful, though.

Quite a rambling jumble of stuff, and this certainly doesn’t encompass all I’ve been up to in the past couple of years, but maybe this gives y’all an idea of my XO adventures over the past few years.


I’ve done hardware repairs on countless XOs here.  Since there’s not a centralized “XO Repair” center here, I’ve taken care of most of the XO repair issues that have come up here in the community.  I trained a local high school class in XO hardware repairs for their “Junior Achievement” class for their “XO Fixit” program and they went to the national JA competion in Minneapolis this year.

I have a Sparkfun serial adapter and, can get into OFW as long as the mobo isn’t dead.  I’m an expert at taking apart and putting XOs back together.  Once I timed himself and completely disassembled, put back together, then booted an XO in 27 minutes.  I’ve got a YouTube of my XO screen replacement prowess at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmUqRgvHI9o

For the XO 1.5 units, I’m going to disassemble and reassemble them, record it all, and then post the videos on YouTube.

3.  Objectives

First, get developer keys just in case

Under an “Official” build, register to the XS in my house

Try out Chat, Write, and other collaborative activities under Sugar in Jabber

Test the Gnome Desktop

Compile and install a kernel

Try out Debian – from my own bootstrap

Compile stuff for the XO 1.5:  starting off with low hanging fruit like mplayer

Examine the differences between OFW on the XO-1 and the XO-1.5

Test out external devices on the XO-1.5 that I’ve gotten working on the XO-1:

Samsung Laser Printer

Epson Scanner

ZyDas USB Wifi ethernet adapter

Linksys USB Wired ethernet adapter

And since I’m attached to an actual deployment, I’d take the XO 1.5, either stock or tricked out, and show it off to the stakeholders (i.e. teachers and students).

4.  Plan of Action

Well, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t descend upon an XO 1-5 like a five year old on Christmas morning.  But after the initial novelty, there is work and research to be done. 

I pretty much covered my goals under the the objectives.  Though I’m mostly a technical girl, I still have the heart of an English major, therefore bringing a unique narrative and perspective to the project.

Basically, my plan of action to hack at the XO 1.5 six ways to Sunday.  I’m already experienced with the XO-1 and this is just another exciting platform to work with.  I’ll test it with my XS and report back to Martin.  I’ll listen to wish lists from the educators I work with and see if I can fulfill their requirements.  Tyler and I will disassemble a unit and take copious pictures and scans of the hardware as well as videos of the processes.  I’m no stranger to typical Linux stuff like installing from rpm or apt-get, compiling from source (getting stuff from git or svn if need be), creating and editing config files, networking setup, then XO stuff like flashing, security, using external drives (I think I have about 10 or so with various purposes), or the XS.  Speaking of the XS, nothing else has taught me more about DHCP and Apache.

5.  Needs

Locally, this project will include demonstrations for administrators and other stakeholders (teachers and students).  Though it’s an important purpose, however it’s not the only reason, nor the most important reason, why I’m asking for a couple of XO 1.5 units.  Should Birmingham decide to continue with the XO project, as the tech here, I’m going to need to figure out how the XO 1.5 integrates with the other XOs and the XS.  For example, I have reporting based on XO-1 MAC addresses.  Reporting is a little thing, and not a big deal, but it would be nice to have actual units to register to the XS and see how and if they work with moodle. how much faster the access is, and if they can collaborate with other XOs on the existing Jabber servers.  I’m not afraid of flashing the XO 1.5 development units many, many times, from the stock distro to whatever needs to be tested.  I’ve done that on my test XO-1 units and haven’t had any problems so far.

Since my focus is on the actual hardware and integration with our existing network, there is no emulation scenario.  Two XO 1.5 units would be sufficient for initial testing.

6.  Sharing Deliverables

I created a place we can blog at:  http://birminghamxo.blogspot.com/

Due to our focus, this will more than likely be rather technical.  I’m not a teacher and thus do not have an educator’s perspective.  However, I do have contacts within the school system willing to offer critiques.

7.  Quality/Mentoring

I’m really lucky to have an active XS Jabber server with several users who will be happy to help me regarding XO 1.5 testing.  In fact, one of my Jabber users, Kevin Mark (kevix) has an XO 1.5 unit.  I’m also friends with Mike Lee, who has a couple of XO 1.5 units.  I’m also conversant with the IRC chat rooms.

As far as educators, I’m walking distance to an excellent elementary school, Glen Iris, selected for the XO-1 pilot in Birmingham.  The school librarian knows me rather well and we help each other out quite a bit.

And I’m quite comfortable getting on IRC and asking/answering any questions.

8.  Very Rough Timeline – most of this will flow into each other

Month 1:  Initial Evaluation – software, networking, collaboration

Month 2:  XS integration Evaluation

Month 3:  Hardware Evaluation – Disassemble a unit and post pictures, scans, and videos

Month 4:  Introduce the units to teaching staff at Glen Iris Elementary.  Find out how they’d integrate into the classroom versus the XO-1.

Month 5:  Take teacher input and write up what they’d really like to see the XO 1.5 do as a “regular” computer in the classroom.  Create action plan to implement their ideas.

Months 6 & 7:  Test teacher ideas.  Also, XO Hackery i.e. other OS’s (Debian, Ubuntu, the XS), external devices such as printers, scanners, and DVD RW drives.

Month 8:  Cloud Computing – Dropbox, Twitter, Google Docs, Facebook

Month 9:  Reintroduce to teachers and administrators at Glen Iris Elementary for evaluation purposes.

Yes, I do agree to return the XO 1.5 units should my progress stall

EPIC and Glen Iris Visit Today

Met the “Media Specialist” (that’s what librarians are called nowadays) at EPIC elementary.  Very nice lady and really sharp.  Glen Iris is right across the street, so I popped in to pick up an XO that needs looking at.  Of course, there were other things they needed to help with!  I’m always happy to help at Glen Iris.

Now I need to figure out the best way to do something like sshfs from an iMac to the school server there.  One of the teachers has a bunch of content he wants to host from the Apache server and he’s tired of command line scp.

As an aside, both these schools are close enough for me to walk to.  It sure was hot, though.