I’ve been a fan of open source since learning about it in high school. I’ve been running Fedora linux as my main operating system for the past five years, and my first internship was at Red Hat, the world’s largest open source company. It was clear to me that open source software is significantly better for the developer, which translates into significant improvements for the user. Futhermore, I was convinced that open source philosophy just made sense — not only for software, but for other things as well. For a brief look at the open source movement, read the first paragraph of the wiki page for “Open Source Movement.”
Going into my research this summer, I figured that the typically touted open source values of freedom and equality would correspond very well with Christian values. I’ve been an open source advocate since high school, and a large part of that was because I believed that open source corresponded with my Christian values. And I was not alone in identifying the one with the other — this article from the Economist, the now-archival Open Source Theology site, and other sites and blogs have noticed the relationship. Some of my reading material for this summer confirmed this. From Kirkpatrick’s Critical Technology: A Social Theory of Computing: “Only from this starting point will we be able to identify virtuous uses of the web — those that everyone can agree ought to be prioritised — and to privilege these by ensuring that they are not disadvantaged, legislated against or otherwise inhibited by the machinations of power. Examples might well be the open source movement itself. . . .” Two weeks ago, I interviewed a leader in the open source world, who will remain nameless. It was a thoroughly enjoyable interview, but not entirely what I expected. He confirmed that the core value of the open source movement is sharing, but the other values promoted through the open source movement were what surprised me. In no particular order, the values he listed were: Continue reading
From their website, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) aims “to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop” to “empower the world’s poorest children through education.” To this end, they make and sell laptops to third-world government organizations for distribution to children in local schools as teaching aids. While OLPC didn’t respond to my requests for an interview, I was able to get my hands on one of the first-gen laptops for a (brief) review.
My OLPC laptop!
The bright stylings of the laptop immediately capture one’s attention. It’s clear that this laptop has been designed with children in mind. There are no open ports on the outside of the laptop when it’s closed (excepting the power connector), and the plastic has a very rugged design. I feel like I could drop this in the dirt time and time again and it would still work without issue. Opening it up, we see a well-designed child sized keyboard and trackpad, both of which are dust and water resistant. The keyboard comes in multiple languages, per the request of the buyer. Mine is a standard QWERTY layout.
Booting the device up we see the true genius of this laptop. It runs Fedora, a fully open-source linux distribution, and presents a custom interface called Sugar to the user. This interface, also open source, was designed with the small village school in mind. Rather than a traditional desktop layout, the interface is organized spatially, with a neighborhood, group, and home view.
The neigborhood view.
Screenshot of Windows 7 Desktop. Used with permission from Microsoft.
The GUI, or Graphical User Interface, is the graphical environment presented to the user for working with the computer. The four major players in GUI design for general-purpose computers (laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones) are the Windows desktop interface (though Microsoft is currently transitioning to its new “Metro” interface), Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. These interfaces are all that most people ever encounter in the computer because it requires technical knowledge and skill to break through the interface to access the nuts and bolts of the computer. The creation of the GUI dates back some thirty-odd years, and is largely responsible for the dissemination of the computer to the general public. It has often been hailed as the innovation which wrested control of the computer from the technological elite and placed it in the hands of the non-tech-savvy user — and this is still partially true. Ironically, however, this attempt to make the computer accessible to the general public is socially determinate.
This is an increasingly relevant question as self-styled “online communities” such as Reddit or Facebook show no signs of slowing down their exponential growth. And it’s increasingly important for churches too, as many churches start up blogs, webcasts, online prayer submissions, bible study chat rooms, virtual worship, virtual counseling, and more. It’s foolish to deny all validity to these methods of communication — after all, being able to remain in communication with friends halfway around the world can greatly strengthen a relationship — but I remain skeptical of community in the virtual space.
Historically, being a member of a community requires a different mode of interaction than does being an individual in a public space. Because communities are locally placed, the individual generally did not have a choice as to what community he or she belonged. Continue reading
(Side note: I really wanted to call this post “A Tablet A Day Keeps the Luddites Away” for the sake of humor, but the current title was more descriptive)
The above picture is why my post is a bit late — I wanted to wait to post until after Microsoft’s mystery product announcement on Monday evening. As suspected by the rumor mill, this is Microsoft’s new tablet, called Surface, and its announcement at this time is indicative of where the personal computing culture has been and where it is going.
News articles are popping up all over the place claiming that tablet sales will soon outstrip laptop sales by 2013, or 2015, or 2017. While these figures are generally sensationalized claims based on faulty linear extrapolation of current sales figures, surveys do indicate that tablets are becoming more and more popular. A Yahoo study from only two months ago (link) indicates that the tablet is filling in important place in the U.S. home. From the article:
The 2,000 U.S. respondents participating in the study were aged between 18-64 years, and were asked questions on their tablet usage and habits, in order to uncover who’s really using them, where they take them, and just how far they’ll go to keep them. Some additional findings are outlined below:
- 15% would give up their car for an entire year to be able to keep their tablet; that would equate to 45 million fewer cars on the road, meaning less traffic and a whopping 270 million tons fewer greenhouse gases (CO2) emitted per year.
- Tablets are now the second most fought over device in the living room, just behind desktops/laptops, and ahead of TV remotes.
- A third of men frequently take their tablet to the bathroom. 40% of women never take the tablet to the bathroom.
- A quarter of women are happy to give up sex (25%) to keep their tablet. As for men? Only half as many men would give up sex (13%).
- The tablet is the go-to wind-down device: 91% use their tablet in bed.
The popularity of the tablet form factor tells us a lot about the direction of the current personal computing culture. Continue reading