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

Timothy Falconer timothy at squeakland.org
Mon Aug 31 11:21:28 EDT 2009


Can we get permission to post this on our "press" section on the  
Squeakland website?

If so, please send the original spanish so people can switch between  
the English and Spanish.


On Aug 20, 2009, at 6:00 PM, Carlos Rabassa wrote:

> 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 child.
> 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 quitting.
> 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 alphabetization.
> 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 sites.
> - 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 jobs.
> - 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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