The last few days have been crazy. Just plain nuts.
The pilot programme - 2 classes - of the Manaiakalani project has just gone live. Huge event for me. This has probably been the most responsibility I've taken for such a project.
At the beginning of next year, we'll be rolling out 2000 laptops amongst students around 7 schools. But that's definitely not the end of it. Given that they're building a community wide wireless network, it'll mean that others will be able to use them as well. Suddenly things like Internet banking becomes avaliable to the parents. When it's not in cash and just a couple of figures on the screen, people are able to think a bit more about budgets and the like.
Apparently we've got others looking on. There's some interest in using this same model elsewhere. Hell, if I could get paid for it, I'd be really happy building and maintaining various images for the various projects.
Anyway, I thought I'd talk about the last couple of days - starting from Friday last week.
I've been developing the image on laptops which weren't actually the laptops which the students would be getting. Pretty damn close, but not the same.
So the laptops arrived last week. On Friday, testing HAD to begin. So I went to do a quick test of the imaging procedure. Unfortunately the BIOS (Basic Input Output System - the bit when you first turn on your computer) flash didn't work though luckily that part of it wasn't my responsibility.
On Saturday, I went to the OLPC group. This group is probably the best software testers I've come across. Their attention to detail and boldness and reporting anything that seems perhaps even a little bit odd lets you iron out issues really quickly. This is an area that programmers really aren't all that good at. As far as we're concerned, it's almost always the users who are at fault, not how the software was designed.
So I hijacked the OLPC's testing to test out the Manaiakalani image. One of the big problems that came out was that "Sound Recorder" wouldn't record sound. Sounds like a small problem right?
Sunday, I needed to get a new image built. All of the problems (at least those that I could fix) found on Saturday needed to fixed. There were a couple of things. I had it sorted in short order. However...
THE SOUND ISSUE
Despite the sound card being a fairly standard one, apparently there are loads of different implementations of it which need customized configurations. Furthermore, the laptops had done away with the 2 audio plugs from last years model (and a usb port) and replaced with with just 1.
Turns out an external microphone wasn't working either. By 5am Monday morning, I'd been working on the sound issue for the better part of the day and had given in and made the image.
Up by 7am for imaging day. 100 laptops, BIOS to be flashed and OS to be installed. 8 incredibly enthusiastic kids (forever known now as technicians). After a few teething issues - some of the laptops had an option in the BIOS for a "Boot Boost" meaning that the quiet boot screen wouldn't show up and it wouldn't respond to the keys we expected it to respond to.
It turns out we had more than 8 kids. We had adults. The kids would go and grab 2 laptops for flashing and hand one to an adult and say "here". That's it. Suddenly the adults were all flashing laptops too.
Then came the BIOS password panic. As a precaution against the possibility that the kids might think it funny to set a password on their friend's laptop and do something like set no devices in the boot order, and most likely forget the password, it was decided that the vendor of the laptop would put a password on the BIOS. Only they are to know. It turns out that there are 2 levels of password on the BIOS. A supervisor password and a user password. So while the supervisor password was set, the user could still get into the BIOS.
After reminding everyone of the original reason for putting the password on the BIOS, it actually came across as a bit of a win. The supervisor password couldn't be changed except if you'd entered in the supervisor password. Brilliant! So kids could still play and explore, but if it did get mucked up, we could at the very least get in there and set things back to sane values again.
The whole thing was streamed over the Internet. I was a little embarrassed when I realised that me having lunch was being streamed over the Internet! Apparently we had had 57 people watching the stream at one point or another.
And finally, Tuesday. The handing out of the netbooks. The kids lined up and gave their teachers the serial number as they got the almost shiny box. A bit of instruction and they were away (except for one poor little girl who seemed almost apologetic for having a brick of a netbook - there were issues with one of them the day before but it managed to slip through the process). I was quite pleased that I decided to put Tux Math on there - it was a huge hit for things to load up first.
Speaking of Tux Math: has everyone reading this played it? The hardest level is ridiculously hard - being a combination of in-equations, integers using the 4 main operators. I recommend everyone put themselves through that particular hell at least once in their lives.
By the end of the day, there were kids holding their netbooks close - like something long lost that they were concerned may leave them again. Unfortunately for them, they had to leave the netbooks at school. The network won't be ready until next year and these laptops aren't actually the ones that the kids are buying.
Anyway, time for some sleep. I'm back at school tomorrow!