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Nasty UNdispatch blog attack on One Laptop per Child — a response

Nasty UNdispatch blog attack on One Laptop per Child — a response

Children Using the OLPC XO image copyright (C) Henry Edward Hardy 2008, 2009
image copyright (C) Henry Edward Hardy 2008, 2009

Undispatch, which says it receives part of its funding from the United Nations Foundation, has published an attack on the One Laptop per Child project on its website titled “One Laptop per Child – The Dream is Over” at

The blog, which says it is by Alanna Shaikh, makes several criticisms of the OLPC project.

I served as systems administrator for OLPC from February 2008 until January 2009 and continue to volunteer for the project because I think it is one of the most wonderful and laudable development projects ever attempted, despite the many setbacks and disappointments it has endured in trying to fundamentally change world-wide education, development, and the laptop market.

I wrote a response to UNDispatch two days ago on their blog site. My response did not appear. I wrote to UNDispatch to ask for them to approve my post, and provided them with a copy. It still did not appear.

A response from OLPC Chairman and founder Nicholas Negroponte was published on the UNDispatch site today.

Here is my initial response which I submitted to Alanna Sheikh’s blog post on UNdispatch (with slight editing for typos and to add live links):

This blog post makes several questionable and false statements. And it has a generally nasty and condescending tone which makes me rather sad.

OLPC did not “abandon” human power sources, however conventional wired electricity, generators or in some cases, solar power are much more efficient. Making children do hard physical labor to power their computer is not such a great idea. The hand crank was fragile and did not provide enough power. However, foot-treadle devices such as can be used to power a truck battery work reasonably well.

OLPC has not “abandoned the special child-friendly OS”. It has shipped approximately 700,000+ units with Sugar and perhaps 7,000 with Windows (my unofficial estimates). OLPC has provided funding and support for SugarLabs to continue this free software development work, and Sugar is available as a desktop on any Fedora or Red Hat desktop post Fedora 10. The number of XO laptops sold for poor countries is about ten times the total number sold though the several “Give One Get One” promotions in North America and Europe.

The idea that the laptops were developed without end user input is patently false. There is an active and vocal community of OLPC users thoughout the world who participate — see through the OLPC wiki at and many locally-based organizations. Among these are Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, Open Learning Exchange Nepal, and OLPC Rwanda. A partial list of regional groups can be found at . There are many local grassroots small deployments in dozens of countries. Last night at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society Open House we heard about a local grassroots deployment in Haiti spearheaded by Kevin Wallen(sp?) and Helene Dietrich(sp?) and the tremendous empowerment and social transformation and pride it has brought in that community.

The phrase “to call a spade a spade” has rather unfortunate racist connotations and seems singularly inappropriate on this UN blog.

OLPC pioneered the netbook market. It has set an unequaled standard in simplicity of maintenance, low power consumption, ruggedness and durability, high quality screen, long-range dual wireless capability, use of free and open source software, and openness to community collaboration. Designing and developing the hardware, software, applications, distributing the computers, and coordinating the hundreds of local initiatives was done by no more than 23 employees (at one time) including me.

Hundreds of volunteers work on the OLPC project through developing applications, answering end-user tickets via the support gang, helping administer the back-end infrastructure through the Volunteer Infrastructure Group and many other initiatives.

The XO has brought joy, pride and a window on the world for hundreds of thousands of children in poor and working class communities throughout the world. Although I left OLPC in January, I am very proud of the work we have done and consider the year that I spent there as systems administrator to have been the high point of my life intellectually, educationally, and morally.


Henry Edward Hardy
speaking only for myself

My letter to the editor of UNDispatch:

To whom it may concern,

I am the former senior systems administrator for One Laptop per Child. I am writing to draw your attention to a very problematic post appearing on your site, “One Laptop per Child – The Dream is Over”. I posted a response and correction two days ago, but your moderators have not yet approved it.

While a OLPC employee, I had the privilege of working with UNICEF at the UN in New York on the “our stories” project on March 29-30 2008 and the UN staff could not have been more supportive, cordial, or helpful. See

So it is very disappointing to see such a vindictive, hostile, and inaccurate report appearing on a blog financed at least in part by the United Nations Foundation.

I look forward to my response as submitted two days ago being approved and appearing on the site today.


Henry Edward Hardy
senior systems administrator, One Laptop per Child 2008-2009
speaking only for myself

As of this posting, I have yet to receive a response from UNDispatch or to see my response posted on their site.

In Defense of OLPC and the XO Laptop
Negroponte’s Response to UN Dispatch: Dream is Alive
Computer Error?
Could One Laptop Per Child be a bad thing?
Debate About Computer Program for Impoverished Students
OLPC: criticisms and a defense

Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy

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11 September, 2009 - Posted by | Alanna Shaikh, criticism, development, education, One Laptop Per Child, scanlyze, United Nations | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. From Wikipedia:
    ”’The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur, which was not recorded in usage until 1928”’

    I personally have never heard the latter usage, and don’t find it offensive.

    (granted, the rest of the blog post is sound :)

    Comment by Luke Faraone | 11 September, 2009 | Reply

    • Luke, you left out the rest of that sentence “…however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the modern racial slur against African-Americans.”

      Comment by scanlyze | 11 September, 2009 | Reply

      • I suspect that this US-based confusion is almost unknown in the rest of the English-speaking world, who probably won’t change their usage (or want their own language and culture to be wrongly denigrated) because of a few racists in one anglophone subcommunity. Seems like a non-issue for most of the world.

        But back to the article: I’m glad to hear about grassroots projects involving OLPC, and I’m very curious to know how any deployments of updated hardware will fare.

        Comment by Paul | 15 September, 2009

  2. UNdispatch has now (September 11, 2009) posted some comments on the Alanna Shaikh attack on OLPC from readers including Nicholas Negroponte, Oscar Becerra, Frits Hoff, Bernie Innocenti, Carlos Rabassa, Jon Camfield, and myself.

    Comment by scanlyze | 11 September, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] See: Nasty UNdispatch blog attack on One Laptop per Child — a response […]

    Pingback by Response to ‘Netbooks: our modern-day Tower of Babel’ « Scanlyze | 15 September, 2009 | Reply

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