HUMBOLDT – Today will find Jan Kraepelien in Orick, demonstrating to the relatively isolated schoolchildren and their teachers a portable computer as tiny and inexpensive as it is innovative and powerful.
Dubbed the XO, the toy-like computer is the brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab co-founder Nicolas Negroponte as part of his “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) initiative, intended to help bring literacy and connectivity to children in underdeveloped Third World countries.
Despite its kid-sized keyboard and screen, the little green 3.2 lb. machine comes packed with a full complement of serious applications, including word processing, music, art, games, calculator, programming, Wi-Fi e-mail and Internet, plus color screen and a built-in video camera – everything you need to tap into not only the vast repositories of online information, but the rest of the world itself.
Jan Kraepelien demonstrates the XO computer.
Kraepelien, a member of the Humboldt Access Board of Directors, member of the Redwood Technology Consortium and advocate for improved connectivity for Humboldt County, immediately recognized the value of the XO computer – designed for remote areas of Africa, Asia and elsewhere – to rural students in this bioregion. He obtained one of the units and, as a personal project, has been evangelizing about it to well-placed decisionmakers and possible users for months.
“We’re kind of a Third World county in the U.S.,” Kraepelien observed. “Orick is a classic example – here they are on [U.S. Highway] 101, but they don’t have high-speed Internet. They’re classically underserved.”
Through last year, the XO computer was available as part of an innovative one-for-the-price-of-two, “Give One, Get One” deal for just $499. For that price, American buyers got one of the machines, subsidizing another for delivery to developing countries such as Peru and Uruguay. Some 167,000 of the machines were sold that way.
Kraepelien’s mission is part advocacy, part scoping. He hopes to both build demand for the machine, and, as momentum builds, build it into the push for better connectivity for Humboldt via the state Broadband Task Force. That group has two influential local members – HSU President Rollin Richmond and Humboldt Area Foundation Executive Director Peter Pennekamp. Both were enthused, Kraepelien said.
“I do like the OLPC initiative very much,” Richmond confirmed. “I’ve already bought two of the laptops. One is going to Africa; the other to my granddaughter… Negroponte’s idea has huge potential, in my estimation. Kids learn best by doing, and this is a great way to get them started.”
“Kids immediately get it,” Kraepelien said. “We want to get them computers at the age they’re learning language, because computerese is just like a foreign language.”
Another key supporter is Jim Carlson of Arcata-based Carlson Wireless, which designs and manufactures long-range radio devices for rural communities – a natural fit with the XO.
“When I looked at that, I went, ‘Whoa,’” Carlson said. He noticed that OLPC’s outreach is to some of the same faraway places his company serves. He contacted OLPC’s technology officer, saying, “We’re working in a lot of these areas; let’s cooperate.”
Tiny but mighty, the XO computer boasts excellent graphics and other advanced features.
The response was positive, and Carlson is committed to following OLPC’s credo of keeping costs to a minimum. “I’m committing our company to go in on a non-profit mode to show the value in economic and social mode,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to get every elementary school-age kid in Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Mendocino County a computer.”
Note: The XO computer will be the topic of this week’s Humboldt Review radio show Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m., broadcast live from Arcata’s HSU Natural History Museum on KHUM 104.3/104.7 FM. Those interested are invited to attend the show or listen live; the show will also be videotaped for later cablecast on Humboldt Access Channel 12.