One of the pieces to the “access to information” puzzle is the availability of content – what makes the Internet so useful. Surely we can run computers off a solar panel, but no connectivity means no content. The XO can be crammed with stuff, but storage is limited. A stop-gap approach is to install a server locally to serve offline content.
This offline concept is quite exciting. Its as if someone has captured a piece of the Internet and put it in a box. One can also think of it as a mirroring service with extremely high latencies. Its very much like the sneakernet concept from the early (pre-web) days of the Internet. We grab high-bandwidth, high-demand, highly-appropriate content, store it on the server and serve it locally. Connectivity to the outside world may or may not exist. If we have intermittent connectivity, we can use it to monitor, update and maintain the server. If not, then content can be shipped once every so often on a USB stick, plugged into the server and rsync‘d to keep it fresh.
I’ve been mulling over this for a while now, fiddling with hardware, software, networking, content, etc. Then, out of the blue, I had to make a *very* short trip to India on a few hours’ notice. I woke up early, dropped off my kid at summer camp, and sat down to install the OLPC XS School Server on a Fit PC. Given that we have 15 XOs or so in Bhagmalpur, a Fit PC should do. It runs at 12 volts DC and draws about 8 watts at the AC adapter end. Accounting for a 20% loss in AC-to-DC, I’d suspect the machine runs at 5 to 6 watts internally. I have a 64 GB solid state drive on this one, so no moving parts at all. After fiddling for an hour or so, I had the school server installed and ready to go. As a sidenote, I am using a mesh antenna on this install.
Next, jump on a plane or two, and I’m in Hyderabad, India! It just happened to be that my aunt was in Hyderabad, and was heading to Lucknow in a couple of days. So, the server went with her to Lucknow, and will get hand-delivered to Bhagmalpur in a few days. Once this box gets plugged in, we’ll use a cross-over Ethernet cable to talk to a Windows XP laptop via Internet connection sharing. This XP laptop has successfully connected to the Internet via a 3G USB modem. Once the Fit PC sees the Internet, it will tunnel back to my server in San Francisco and we will have “ET phone home” all ready to go 🙂 Sounds complicated? Dreaming big is important!
Here’s an inventory of the stuff I shipped with the XS School Server:
- One Fit PC
- One OLPC mesh antenna
- One roll of Velcro
- One USB to Ethernet connector
- One Ethernet CAT 5 cable (yellow)
- One Ethernet CAT 5 crossover cable (red)
- Colored cable ties
- US power strip.
- Four OLPC XO power cables.
- Three earphones from the flight, to strip and use with Measure activity.
And now, we wait for the box to get to Bhagmalpur. Oh, and after the installation, I had some time left to put a load of music, videos, books and dictionaries on the server, so it wasn’t shipped empty 🙂 The videos are about a bunch of OLPC projects from around the world (Peru, Uruguay, Rwanda, India, Ethiopia, Australia, San Francisco…) so the kids in Bhagmalpur will get to see their lean, green, children’s machine “peers” from around the world. That will be a Beautiful Day!
By the way, did you know each and every XO boots up to the tune of “Beautiful Day” by U2? Thank you, Bono!