[squeakland] Uruguay Etoys XO Google - Transaltion from uruguayan newspaper

Carlos Rabassa 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.

Some numbers:

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  
science field?

- 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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