I’ve admitted that I didn’t immediately get the point of the One Laptop Per Child project, but now I’m now very excited about the ideas behind this non-profit effort to build a $100 mesh-network computer to be owned by children in the developing world. This essay captures a lot of what I feel and wonder about it, including some fears of dystopian unexpected consequences.

The intro also speaks of the difficulty getting started, and this is something shared by many of Alan Kay’s projects, including Squeak and Croquet. The author makes lemonade of this by discussing the constructivist value of learning for yourself. OK, but I do believe that the initial barrier to entry in many of Kay’s change-the-world projects are simply a reflection of their stage of maturity. In my opinion, there’s nothing inconsistent about constructivism combined with a gentle-slope entry, and that this will come in time to Croquet. But it ain’t there yet.

I’m working on educational projects in Croquet that I think share the same philosophy as the OPLPC, including seductive ease of entry combined with constructivism. However, Croquet won’t be suitable for the OPLC hardware for a long time. Croquet now depends on graphics cards with fairly capable hardware acceleration for rendering. Without this, Croquet isn’t just poorly drawn – it is unusable. One frame per second isn’t any fun.

No matter. It is wise to avoid entanglements and dependencies at this stage. But it would be nice someday to deploy some Croquet projects on the OLPC for reasons of cost and connectivity. By trend, I imagine that if the OPLC is successful, future versions will have graphics cards suitable for Croquet, just as will whatever replaces cell phones.

The work we have done with the Brie user interface will eventually lead to more dependency on graphics card features, not less. However, both the Brie and Tweak approaches to UI design do involve a “view” or “costume” display for each object that does not affect the object’s semantics. We’ve also done a few projects where much of a 3D scene consists of 2D panels that are always facing each observer. (You and I looking from different points of view both see the panel dead-on on our respective computers.) So it’s plausible that there can be 2D views of 3D scenes, in which flat stuff is shown facing each observer and everything else is a 2D sprite. But this is pretty far down on my list. Frankly, I think hardware capabilities are developing faster than software, so a redesign of Croquet infrastructure or applications may be unnecessary. By the time we have applications worthy of use by hundred’s of millions of tomorrows citizens of the world, the hardware will support it.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

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