[conspire] NYLXS Press Release on the OLPC Project

Ruben Safir ruben at mrbrklyn.com
Sat Apr 26 22:03:08 PDT 2008

On Sat, Apr 26, 2008 at 04:11:42PM -0700, prosolutions at gmx.net wrote:
> > From: Ruben Safir <ruben at mrbrklyn.com>
> > 
> > An operating system is more than a commodity.  It becomes the looking
> > glass that develops how the user thinks and it literally shapes
> > the mind of it's users. 
> I disagree with this Ruben.  I believe an OS should be something the end
> user is totally unaware of, and the difference between them that a
> normal user might notice should be minor to trivial.

I appreciate your response and I believe you make some very valid points.
Unfortunately, I don't think that the goal of making an OS invisible to
a user is possible, and perhaps it isn't a good way to view operating 

First, let me say that I posted this here, and then re-edited it some
because I'm basically stupid about these things, lose patients and 
inevitable send something out before it is finished.  And as I reminded
by a friend, this might not be a great topic for a Press Release, but NYLXS
has a serious political component, in fact that might be its most important
component, so we will make such illadvised public statement from time to 

Lastly, I'd just not that the reason I sent this to this small and vital
mailing list, aside from the great esteme I have for the Cabal host, is that
the only time I've put a hand on an OLPC prototype was at a Cabal meeting
so I asumed that there was a rich body of people interested on this list in
the project.

Regarding the use of the operating system as being invisable to the user,
there are 3 components to this commonly held position in the tech industry
which makes it problematic:
Human perception, Human Interface Design, and thinking of people as users.

First, all human perception leads to a change and education in thinking.
The expression that a man with a hammer views everything as a nail is
very true.  Moving this discussion from relm of opinion into the relm of
fact based academic inquiry this proves to be true and provable.  The examples
of this are rich in the literature and diverse and one can pull them from just
about any area of study.

Anthropologically, humans that live in forrests their whole lifetime when pulled
to mountain tops tremble with fear at the vast view.  You, as an individual who
speaks multiple languages must be personally aware of the how different languages
shape the thinking and prespective that individuals aquire from the languages that
they speak and think in.  Phrases and words in German simply don't cleanly translate
into English, a problem translaters have struggled with for centuries.  Hebrew
liturgical works are steeped in commentaries on top of translations and discussions
of inferences and grammer due to the very difficulty of translating anceint liguistic
intelligence to modern toungues.  By the 10th Century of the current age great translaters
trying to transmit the Jewish Bible to then modern language, such as Rashi and others
for children had to rely on venecular paraphrasing and lessons in hebrew grammer to 
convey what they percieved as not only the literal meaning of the text, but a literal
means given in a holy language by the omnipotent and all knowing intellect.  Getting
the student to understand the language, not just to tranlate it, was inherently 
understood as the primary religous indoctrination and for the foundation for religous
development and more advanced study.  The original Hebrew had to remain a living language.

The influence of language on human thinking has moved beyound philosophical musings
and has been shown both through inference, and direct biological measurement.
Today we have learned, largely based on historical and conjective theories, most notibly
the works of Chomsky and Jean Piaget, that language physiologically affects brain development
and we can map these development, including the recent work published in Scientific America
on Mylenation and White Matter development, MRI results.  Language affects Perception, a fact
recently reported on the BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4555052.stm and a fact exploited
by artists such as Jasper Johns who used words in his art to imply colors that would otherwise
only be suggested by some obscure matter of human perception 

I'll add below more links supporting these observations at the end of this message.  

It's not just language which affects thinking, everything you learn is a step ladder
for future intellectual development.  I really don't need to quote all the studies
which link television viewing to behavior.  Such studies have been done ad nusium,
one of the most interesting of which was the introduction of Broadcast TV for the 
first time into a community in the middle of some mountain range in the mid-1980's
and the documentation of the transformation of the community's development, it's
affect on education and child development, overall a rather condeming report of the 
Broadcasting medium.

With the avalanche of evidence to the contrary, it's impossible to believe that any
operating system interface can be of trivial or unnoticed.  The choices made in the 
design of operating systems inherently affect the thinking patterns of the people
who use the system.  It would be unhuman for any other affect to be possible.  And
even in our own sphere of computer usage, it is obvious that over time the dominance
of poorly designed interfaces to both operating systems and applications.

This brings us to the second point, the science of human interface design.  For while it 
is true that the interface a computer uses affects the liguistic and logic capabilities
of people over the long term, it is also true that humans have protencety wired into
them for functionality and tool usage that has been inherited and shaped by our evolution.

Humans can throw spears with a great deal of accuracy, as well as swing a axe, and throw a
curveball.  Chimpanzees can not.  In order to unlock human potential with digital systems
it is essential that the science of Human Interface Design be accounted for.  The science
of human interface design proves that the OS can not only be out of view, but it must be
essentially built to augment the human expereince.  Obviously, and I don't think you would
disagree with this, current operating systems in no way emphasis this enough.  The first
point that I made, that OS's by nature shape our intelligence as we increasingly use computers
and depend on to communicate and perform tasks has warped public perception of not only what 
the computer does, or what it can do for us, but it has destroyed the publics knowledge base
as to what a true design can achive and what it should look like.  We've essentially taken
a population of left handed people and made them right handed.

Human interface design is an established science and art which is schooled and learned
which can be introduced to students with this paper from MIT at 
http://www.mit.edu/~jtidwell/common_ground_onefile.html in addition to programs that can to 
learned and studied within the field of cognative phsycology http://www.cognitivesciencesociety.org/index.html
and even in art programs, such as the masters program at NYU.  The fact is that the Sugar interface
was so foriegn to many Western Users because it tossed out all the previously illconcieved
designs and worked from the ground up, assuming that users in third world countries
would be a fresh page, to design the interface with human intuition and human interface
design at the forfront of the model.  What was interesting to me is that daughter, who
has only used GNU systems in her 18 years of life, imediately sat down with the design
and used it without nearly any help where as an adult user like myself needed to first
discard myself from the 'reprograming' I've learned after decades of working on healthcare
systems.  Once I disposed of those preconceptions, I was able to hack away at the box
fairly quickly although I have a distict advantage of being exposed in my daily life to
the GNU X11 interfaces of my choice, making 'deprogramming' a fairly trivial matter.

Finally, with regard to users, we are all users.  Sysadmins are users, students are users,
doctors are users, house wives are users, children are users.  The idea that the operating
needs to be out of the way unless your a sysadmin is very problematic, especially in a 
project whose main purpose is to create computer literacy worldwide.  There is more to
owning a system then learning how to plug in the printer.  It is essential that the basics
of how printers work, how input and output devices function, how code is stored in a basic
way in RAM, how sound and light is digitalized and encoded, is learned and understood if the
computer is ever to become more than a magic box given by the gods for your exploitation and
enjoyment.  The major song in the Broadway Musical "Avenue Q" is, "The internet is for porn".
Actually it is not.  It's a tool based on sound proven scientific and mathmatical principles,
the bases of which is within the grasp of every healthy human mind on earth, and which needs
to be taught and should be taught if these systems are ever going to be used as tools to unlock
human creatitivity and culture, instead of enslaving people to a monopoly's distorted 'business'
plan.  If your asking the rhetorical question of why is it that people, and children no less,
have to become computer literate and to learn about their operating environemt, I'll tell you
flatly the same answer same answer I give my kids when they complain that they'll never need 
to use trigonometry which is, "You don't know that, and your wrong.  Every ONE needs to learn
an adequate amount of (Math) Information Sciences."  It's just an essential part of being an
adult in the 21st century.

> Now, when it comes to systems administration, then I believe that almost
> everything you state and more applies.  Closed source platforms are
> deconstructive on many different levels.
> But seriously, if an OS were so complex that what you state about how
> they condition normal users were true, then I would consider whatever
> OS that is to be a failure, regardless of whether it is closed or open
> source.  It really should be something the user doesn't notice, and when
> they do actually need to configure something like a printer or external
> storage device, doing so should be trivial.

It is far more important to be understandable than trivial.  Although this is a
very narrow view of issues involved in operating system choices.  More important
is access to it's parts, and how it packages and transmits communications and
the library of human knowldge to users.  If the OS is wrapped up in DRM infested
hardware and code, such is the case with standard MS Windows systems, then the
limititations on the childs ability to learn and create will be governed by their
ability and desire, but by the arbitratry edicts of a foriegn governing board
such as this last week when MS revoked the DRM keys to it's music lists preventing
the movement of all the information and songs under its marketing program to other
> One last comment I wanted to make - I actually have thought the whole
> OLPC thing was totally ridiculous from the beginning.  What made me see
> this was not travelling to Africa or anything, but spending a year
> living in Germany, where the general relationship between people and
> computers is very different than here.  In fact, I was blown away when I
> came back here at how everyone is using computers for everything.  This
> is very much a cultural phenomenon, beyond the utilitiarian use of
> computers which surely exists as well.  

This phenomena is more centralized to New York and the SF bay area, but
I'm sympathetic to this notion although I don't entirely agree.  The future
is going to be increased utilization of digital systems for all human
communications and intellectual activities.  How this is being carried out is
very problematic and worries me, a father of 6 children, every day.

The devices being foisted on us are largely inconceived, difficult to use,
limited in scope, and increasingly expensive toys.  I expect this to blow 
over in time.  But I can't guarantee it.

> Only, I think americans tend to
> mask the cultural disposition towards computers with the utilitarianism.
> So it was not surprising to see this american project, seemingly
> well-intended, to provide one laptop per child in developing countries.  

The idea to just stick a laptop into the hands of children in the third world,
any laptop that does anything, is as poorly conceived for the third world as 
it is here in the US where such efforts constantly prove futile in actually 
educating students.  I've worked a lot in this area and even the ground breaking 
studies of what actually helps students learn and what doesn't hasn't to my 
knowledge even been studied.  I just don't know what to do.  I thought the 
OLPC idea was a little silly because a laptop wasn't going to prevent a 
child dying from famine in East Africa or stop a child rape in Bogeta, Columbia, 
and the cost of a laptop can feed a child for a week, a month and a year in some 
of these countries.  

Nor would it pull a child out of a Madrasha in Pakistan which teaches Jihad and 
integrate him into the widerworld in a more constructive way.  That is aside 
in many places and conditions it can be a very useful ingedient to nation building 
and I had hoped that the lessons learned abroad could then by utilized to improve our
education system hear which has it own serious hurdles to climb over.

> In reality, I think the whole idea is kind of outlandish and there are
> far more things that could greatly benefit children in impoverished
> areas than having laptops.
> --
> Felicia 
> > A system which is at it's core designed to
> > disenfranchise users from the learning experience, especially in how
> > the user views the software itself through learned expectations, and
> > forces information access through monopolistic channels and filters,
> > undermines the development of critical thinking skills.  In geek terms,
> > the operating system reprograms the end user.  The Microsoft operating
> > system is designed to do so from the ground up.  It is in fact the only
> > intended use of the Microsoft Windows Operating System franchise.
> > 
> > The interaction between technology on human and societal development
> > dates to the beginning of civilization, if not even before that.
> > One interesting scholarly article on the topic which is archived at
> > http://www2.mrbrklyn.com/resources/technology_changes_how_we_think.txt
> > by Robin Wilson explores how the Gutenberg printing printing press causes
> > an explosion of mathematical usage and development, and how a large part
> > of that was developed by the standardization of mathematical symbols
> > for universal communication and expression.
> > 
> > 
> > The Microsoft Operating system is designed to restrict digital
> > access according to information in order to optimize a monopolistic,
> > non-competitive agenda, the most essential restriction being the discovery
> > of the basic tools and carnal knowledge of the computer systems, the
> > modern printing press, itself.  This directly conflicts with the core
> > OLPC charter and goal.  While that can be ridiculed as an "Open Source"
> > agenda and irrational hangup, I'd argue based on the historical evidence
> > that the accusatory tone of such statements are fundamentally flawed
> > and very much more in line with the kind of rationality which one might
> > expect from a despot philosophy such as which might come from controlling
> > Communist Party in today's Red China.
> > 
> _______________________________________________
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> conspire at linuxmafia.com
> http://linuxmafia.com/mailman/listinfo/conspire


	Language Acquisition and Brain Development
	Kuniyoshi L. Sakai
	Language acquisition is one of the most fundamental human traits, and it is obviously 
	the brain that undergoes the developmental changes. During the years of language acquisition, 
	the brain not only stores linguistic information but also adapts to the grammatical regularities 
	of language. Recent advances in functional neuroimaging have substantially contributed to 
	systems-level analyses of brain development. In this Viewpoint, I review the current understanding 
	of how the "final state" of language acquisition is represented in the mature brain and summarize 
	new findings on cortical plasticity for second language acquisition, focusing particularly on the 
	function of the grammar center.
	Recent scientific studies have found that the human brain does much of its development 
	in a child's first three years of life. These findings could have a significant impact 
	on the way children are raised and how childcare is funded. Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public 
	Television reports.
	"This unique characteristic is only found among Japanese and Polynesian people, while Chinese 
	and Koreans exhibit the same pattern as Westerners. What is even more interesting is the 
	fact that Japanese whose mother tongue is a foreign language follow the Western pattern, 
	while foreigners whose first language is Japanese follow the Japanese pattern. So this 
	phenomenon is not a matter of "hardware," or the physical structure of the brain, but an 
	issue of software, namely what language was learned first as a child.
	Physiological evidence that a masked unrelated intervening item disrupts semantic priming: 
	Implications for theories of semantic representation and retrieval models of semantic priming
	Details theoretical and methodological advances in the study of language acquisition as an 
	emerging, rather than built-in, capacity, addressing levels of language from phonology to 
	social interaction. For linguists, psycholinguists, and developmentalists
	Colloquium Paper
	Behind the scenes of functional brain imaging: A historical and physiological perspective
	Marcus E. Raichledagger

	Washington University School of Medicine, 4525 Scott Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110

	At the forefront of cognitive neuroscience research in normal humans are the new techniques of 
	functional brain imaging: positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. The signal 
	used by positron emission tomography is based on the fact that changes in the cellular activity of 
	the brain of normal, awake humans and laboratory animals are accompanied almost invariably by 
	changes in local blood flow. This robust, empirical relationship has fascinated scientists for 
	well over a hundred years. Because the changes in blood flow are accompanied by lesser changes 
	in oxygen consumption, local changes in brain oxygen content occur at the sites of activation 
	and provide the basis for the signal used by magnetic resonance imaging. The biological basis 
	for these signals is now an area of intense research stimulated by the interest in these tools 
	for cognitive neuroscience research.
	This book is part of the Jean Piaget Symposia. It focuses on classic issues between nature and 
	nurture in cognitive and linguistic development and their neurological substrates. Specifically, 
	it focuses on the experience-contingent, experience dependent nature of brain development and its 
	Review : Metabolic Imaging: A Window on Brain Development and Plasticity
	Harry T. Chugani

	Departments of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Radiology Children's
	Hospital of Michigan Wayne State University School of Medicine
	Detroit, Michigan

	Various biochemical and physiological processes that undergo
	maturational changes during human brain development can be now
	studied in vivo using PET. The distribution of local cerebral
	glucose utilization shows regional alterations in the first
	year of life in agreement with behavioral, neurophysiological,
	and anatomical changes known to occur during development
	of the infant. Measurement of the absolute rates of glucose
	utilization with PET reveals that during the major portion of
	the first decade, the human brain has a higher energy (glucose)
	demand compared with both the newborn and adult brains. With
	adolescence, glucose utilization rates decline to reach adult
	values by age 16-18 years. This nonlinear course of cerebral
	glucose 'metabolic' maturation is also seen in a number of animal
	models and coincides with the develop mental course of transient
	synaptic exuberance associated with enhanced brain plasticity and
	efficient learn ing. Evidence of brain reorganization detected
	with PET is discussed in children with unilateral brain injury
	and early sensory deprivation. NEUROSCIENTIST 5:29-40, 1999
	Atypical Brain Development: A Conceptual Framework for
	Understanding Developmental Learning Disabilities This article
	presents ideas that are, in part, a response to the ambiguity in
	the neurological research on learning disorders, the growing
	awareness that developmental disabilities are typically
	nonspecific and heterogeneous, and the growing scientific
	literature showing that comorbidity of symptoms and syndromes
	is the rule rather than the exception. This article proposes
	the term atypical brain development (ABD) as a unifying concept
	to assist researchers and educators trying to come to terms
	with these dilemmas.  ABD is meant to serve as an integrative
	concept of etiology, the expression of which is variable within
	and across individuals. ABD does not itself represent a specific
	disorder or disease. It is a term that can be used to address
	the full range of developmental disorders that are found to be
	overlapping much of the time in any sample of children.
	Imaging the developing brain: what have we learned about cognitive development?
	B.J. Caseya, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Nim Tottenhama, Conor Listona and Sarah Durston
	The human brain undergoes significant changes in both its
	structural architecture and functional organization across the
	life span. Advances in neuroimaging techniques over the past
	decade have allowed us to track these changes safely in the human
	in vivo. We review the imaging literature on the neurobiology
	of cognitive development, focusing specifically on cognitive
	task-dependent changes observed in brain physiology and anatomy
	across childhood and adolescence. The findings suggest that
	cortical function becomes fine-tuned with development. Brain
	regions associated with more basic functions such as sensory
	and motor processes mature first, followed by association areas
	involved in top-down control of behavior.
	The neural system of language: structure and development
	Recent neuroimaging and neuropsychological research in adults and
	infants suggests that the neural system for language is widely
	distributed and shares organizational principles with other
	cognitive systems in the brain. Connectionist modelling has
	clarified that networks operating with associative mechanisms
	can display properties typically associated with genetically
	predetermined and dedicated symbolic functions.
http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~kemmer/Evol/dimensions.html - Excellent
	Three Dimensions of Development in the History of the Human
	Species: Neuro-Cognitive, Social, and Physical
	The acquisition of language by children
	Piaget’s Early Theory of the Role of Language in Intellectual 
	Development: A Comment on DeVries’s Account of Piaget’s Social Theory
http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/rolelang.htm -  EXCELLENT
	The Role of Language in Intelligence
	Tom believes that snow is white. Do polar bears believe that
	snow is white? In the same sense? Supposing one might develop
	a good general theory of belief by looking exclusively at such
	specialized examples is like supposing one might develop a
	good general theory of motor control by looking exclusively at
	examples of people driving automobiles in city traffic. "Hey,
	if that isn't motor control, what is?"--a silly pun echoed,
	I am claiming, by the philosopher who says "Tom believes snow
	is white--hey, if that isn't a belief, what is?"
	Is Language the Key to Human Intelligence?
	The sexist differences between the sexes 
	Human beings have developed consciousness through the use of
	language symbols. With this innovation, humans became capable
	of an awareness of their own mental processes and through that
	event become amenable to modification and adaption of the very
	schemata which creates their reality. The result is that each
	individual, within some limitations, has the capacity to modify
	their own reality to make it more satisfying.
http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/index.php?p=12 - Felton's work
	Interactions Between Language and Non-Linguistic Perception
	It seems clear that language and perception have something to do
	with each other. At the most superficial level we know we can
	describe what we perceive using words and can also ``imagine''
	what is described to us in words. However, we believe language
	and perception are deeply interrelated in ways that go beyond
	these obvious connections and that these inter-relationships
	should be taken seriously by any model of language acquisition.

	Consider first the influence of non-linguistic perception on
	linguistic behavior and language acquisition. Obviously what is
	perceived influences the choice of words used to describe it,
	but our perceptual experience could also directly influence our
	acquisition of language. There are at least two possibilities:
	(1) The way in which the world is construed on particular
	occasions may have an impact on how language is learned. (2)
	Specific perceptual mechanisms or categories may be prerequisites
	for the acquisition of specific words or structures.
	 Language affects 'half of vision'
	Language affects half of what the human eye sees, a study

	University of California researchers tested the hypothesis that
	language plays a role in perception by carrying out a series of
	colour tests.

	They found that people were able to identify colours faster in
	their right visual field than in their left.

	The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study said
	it was because the right field is processed in the brain area
	responsible for language.

	The theory that language impacts on perception forms part of the
	Whorf hypothesis, which states there is a systematic relationship
	between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks
	and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it.
	A Pattern Language for Human-Computer Interface Design - Must
	Read Preface: The Case for HCI Design Patterns Twenty years ago,
	Christopher Alexander shook the architectural world with his
	landmark book The Timeless Way of Building.  His thesis was
	that one could achieve excellence in architecture by learning
	and using a carefully-defined set of design rules, or patterns;
	and though the quality of a well-designed building is sublime and
	hard to put into words, the patterns themselves that make up that
	building are remarkably simple and easy to understand by laymen.

	The patterns that he and his colleagues defined -- published in
	a second volume, A Pattern Language -- are an attempt to codify
	generations of architectural wisdom.  They are not abstract
	principles that require you to rediscover how to apply them
	successfully, nor are they overly specific to one particular
	situation or culture.  Instead, they are somewhere in between:
	a pattern describes possible good solutions to a common design
	problem within a certain context, by describing the invariant
	qualities of all those solutions.

	For example, he recommends using the "Entrance Transition"
	pattern with homes or any other building that "thrives on a
	sense of exclusion from the world."  The pattern describes what
	one must do to a doorway so that someone entering it feels as
	though they are coming into a private, safe space:

	"Make a transition space between the street and the front
	door. Bring the path which connects street and entrance through
	this transition space, and mark it with a change of light,
	a change of sound, a change of direction, a change of surface,
	a change of level, perhaps by gateways which make a change of
	enclosure, and above all with a change of view." (From A Pattern
	Language, pg. 552.)

	Note that the pattern is not just proscriptive.  It describes
	something positive, something you can try to build, even though
	you would naturally vary it according to the particular situation.
	It doesn't simply say, "Never build a doorway without a change
	of level."  Note also that it carries values -- the value of a
	private space, the value of emotional comfort.	Alexander's goal
	is not to make a building which is merely trendy, or efficient,
	or even good-looking; he is looking for ways to create a genuinely
	good experience for people, via their built environment.

	In recent years, parts of the software engineering community
	have enthusiastically embraced the patterns concept, due in no
	small part to the 1995 book Design Patterns, by Erich Gamma,
	Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides.  Like the
	Alexandrian patterns, these patterns of object-oriented software
	provide design solutions that are concrete enough to immediately
	put into practice, with good results, and yet are sufficiently
	abstract to apply to countless situations, limited only by the
	imagination and skill of the pattern user.

	We badly need the benefits of such a pattern language in the
	field of HCI design.
	From a computer science perspective, the focus is on interaction
	and specifically on interaction between one or more humans and
	one or more computational machines. The classical situation
	that comes to mind is a person using an interactive graphics
	program on a workstation. But it is clear that varying what is
	meant by interaction, human, and machine leads to a rich space
	of possible topics, some of which, while we might not wish to
	exclude them as part of human-computer interaction, we would,
	nevertheless, wish to identify as peripheral to its focus. Other
	topics we would wish to identify as more central.

http://www.mrbrklyn.com - Interesting Stuff
http://www.nylxs.com - Leadership Development in Free Software

So many immigrant groups have swept through our town that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological proportions in the mind of the world  - RI Safir 1998

http://fairuse.nylxs.com  DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS - RI Safir 2002

"Yeah - I write Free Software...so SUE ME"

"The tremendous problem we face is that we are becoming sharecroppers to our own cultural heritage -- we need the ability to participate in our own society."

"> I'm an engineer. I choose the best tool for the job, politics be damned.<
You must be a stupid engineer then, because politcs and technology have been attached at the hip since the 1st dynasty in Ancient Egypt.  I guess you missed that one."

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