[squeakland] Uruguay Etoys XO Google - Transaltion from uruguayan
carnen at mac.com
Thu Aug 20 18:00:19 EDT 2009
Translation of article published today August 20, 2009 in El País,
one of Uruguay´s leading daily newspapers.
Generation XO´s skills
The XO laptops imply logics, skills and dynamics of an era of digital
knowledge. Uruguayan engineer [who works for] at Google, discusses
conditions and potential of the country [Uruguay].
[by] XIMENA AGUIAR [El País reporter]
When opening the computer, they [the children] don’t find a “desk”,
but a “home”. They can write, draw, share there work and take their
first steps in sound editing, animation and programming in this home.
These are new skills for which Plan Ceibal trains them.
Plan Ceibal’s XO computers are more than a tool. They are the gate to
a world with certain order and working rules, in which certain skills
are appreciated. A world in which uruguayan children are getting
initiated, all at the same time.
From the beginning, the screen of the little computer doesn’t show
an adult’s desk, with its file folders, but a child, symbolized by
an X for the body and an O for the head. This is where the name comes
from, not an abbreviation but the representation of a sort of alter
ego of the user. In a circle, around the XO symbol, the children
see the logos for the programs offered them, as if they were offers
in a game room: paint, take pictures, write, chat, ... It is the
visualization called home, explained Pedro Arzuaga, an electronics
engineer and a volunteer with the Support Network For Plan Ceibal.
They may also use the visualization mode called “neighborhood”. In
this view, they may see the services offered by a wireless network and
also the XO symbols for all the children with XO computers within the
reach of the network.
In this view, they can see the symbols for the children who are
working together. The symbols representing the children, surround the
symbol for the task they are sharing. Finally, they may select the
“group” mode. It shows, of those nearby, the ones selected by the
user as his/her friends. When opening the computer, they can access
their friends and the activities being shared, Arzuaga explained.
Another peculiarity of the programs created for this computer is that
all activities may be shared, not only the results, but the work in
progress while using the activity. It is possible to write the same
text with four hands, or compose music putting several heads
together. To achieve these results, the group working skills have to
be developed. It seems these skill has been quickly acquired by the
kids that get together in sidewalks and city squares, each one with
his/her laptop. The hardware design also promotes group work, with a
screen that may be rotated to show the work done to those around the
In line with this concept of shared work, there are no folders called
“my documents”, “my images”. Work is automatically saved in a
“journal” where tasks are stored in the order of the date and time
they were performed. It is not necessary to expressly save them when
The computer was completely designed, programs, electronics and
hardware, at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology for child
users, Arzuaga pointed out. Also, a complete set of programs was
developed, from the classic write or paint to more complex ones. For
example, the Etoys program allows for the creation of models,
simulations and games, including text, graphics and video, SynthLab,
a mini lab for building electronic acoustic circuits, or Pippy, an
introduction to programming in Phyton, the dynamic programming
language used to build a good portion of the content for the XO
laptop, as explained in the user’s manual.
The goal is to develop the skills required today to use a computer or
any digital device. The idea is not to produce software engineers,
although there is a high probability we will have many engineers in
the next generations. The idea is to train children with the modern
world skills, said Arzuaga.
An example: The lathe operator at the company where I work is not a
manual laborer. He uses a numeric controlled lathe. He makes a
program following the part´s blueprint and feeds the program to the
lathe. This is the future. Every day more jobs require the worker to
use a computer or to use a piece of equipment that has a computer
inside it, he said.
The [XO] computers use free software, this means the programming code
is accessible to whomever wants to copy or modify it. Arzuaga pointed
out children “don’t know whether or not it is free software”. But, in
fact, children use the same dynamics [as free software developers] to
perform their tasks. Doing team work is indeed an educational subject
he said. First the goal is to transmit [to the children] the skills:
use the mouse, keyboard, surf the web and distinguish valuable
information [from the available stream of information offered through
the web]. Together with these skills, the children receive
operational logics for a networked era, knowledge and digital
Arzuaga will offer a lecture on the basics of the XO, tomorrow at 7
PM, at the Law School, Uruguay State University. Teachers, students
and the public are invited for an introduction to this little machine
that looks like a toy, which has become part of the daily landscape
in the schools.
2.227 Are the XO laptops that Plan Ceibal has scheduled for delivery
today at public schools numbers 29, 30, 54 and 169 in Montevideo.
309.063 are the number of uruguayan children that will have an XO
computer when deliveries scheduled for 2009 are completed.
[The person interviewed, form this point on, is Marcos Campal]
Against the myth of software privileged country
Marcos Campal, an uruguayan, is one of the 1,700 individuals who
works in one of the most comfortable offices in the world: Google in
Dublin. Campal considers Uruguay lacks the conditions to develop
enterprises in the computer science field. He points out the
[conditions] that difficult the growth of innovation projects. He
hopes in ten years we will see the results from Plan Ceibal.
How did you get to work for Google?
A Google recruiter contacted me through a friend. I sent them my
resume from Uruguay. While I was in Germany, they contacted me again
to offer an interview. With a bit of luck I got my job and we moved
to live in Dublin.
What is your job?
- I work as a Software Engineer at Google Search. I am with the team
in charge of assuring the service is available and working properly
all over the world. While the operation is under control, we work on
improving the service.
What are the challenges in the development of the search engine?
The [Google] search engine is generally associated with the search for
documents on a given subject. We also use it to find out the
restaurants closest to our home or the price of any item. This
implies the assimilation of information from the real world, such as
geographic distances or the gastronomic preferences of people.
Handling this information requires the development of new techniques
to capture it as well as to show it. We are also putting a
considerable effort in improving access to the information from mobile
devices, such as cell phones.
Finally. keeping the results free from pages that don’t contain the
desired information (spam) is not an easy job. Spam is generated when
the authors of a web page “cheat” the search engine manipulating their
- How do the company’s [Google Dublin] facilities look like?
The Dublin office is quite large. 1,700 people work there. This
allows, unlike in smaller offices, to have a very good infrastructure.
There are two dining rooms, a gym, a massage spa and so on. Most
people work in spaces without partitions, which promote team work.
More than once, [Google Dublin] was voted as the best place to work
in Ireland. The truth is they deserve the honor.
How is the daily routine?
I believe there is not much of a routine. Each one gets organized as
he pleases, provided team work is possible. Work hours are flexible.
There is no problem if from time to time you work from home. Your
work is evaluated on the basis of results, not on the basis of hours
on the job. Meetings and the environment are informal.
What are the employee benefits?
The most appreciated benefit is probably the food. The dining rooms
are free, of very good quality and variety. We have access to snacks
all the time. This can be dangerous if not compensated by using the
gym. There are all kinds of forms of entertainment, soccer tables,
pool, game consoles and massages. Language and professional
improvement courses are encouraged. The teams have a budget to
organize their activities inside and outside the office. These
activities range from drinking a few beers at a pub to participate in
a boat race. Since the company has a global presence, it is not
uncommon to travel to visit other offices. Another fringe benefit is
working with people of several nationalities. The net result of all
these benefits is that the work environment is excellent, coworkers
really look forward to go to work and very few decide to move to other
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of uruguayans in the computer
- Let’s start with the bad side. I heard several times Uruguay has
privileged conditions for producing and exporting software. I humbly
disagree with this statement. Uruguay lacks several conditions needed
for developing so called “start-ups”. This are enterprises that are
put together in a short time and had a great growth potential,
generally financed with risk capital. They are dedicated to the
development of innovative products. Many of them fail while others
grow fast and much. Facebook, Flickr and Google are examples of
companies that started this way. But there are plenty of companies
that without reaching this success, are created as start-ups and
fully reach their objectives. It is true there are successful
enterprises created in Uruguay by uruguayans but, I have also seen
several companies that don’t grow beyond a few employees, not
reaching the critical mass needed to develop their ideas. They have
to survive on the basis of small projects that allow them to pay their
bills at the end of the month. This limits the number and quality of
working positions created. As a consequence they have difficulties
too keep their employees. It is impossible this way to accumulate
[within the company] the knowledge acquired, a must for success. The
causes of this situation are several. The most obvious is the
difficulty to access risk capital, but the lack of an adequate
infrastructure and the scarcity of experienced people willing to take
a risk, also add up. On the good side is the potential for
achieving, by taking adequate action, an environment suitable for
citizens to implement their projects. A very important decision in
this respect is Plan Ceibal. If they continue to implement it
correctly, I believe we will see result in some ten years.
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