Thanks to the generosity of Colin Davitt, my dreams and those of my family to have our own XO laptop have come true! (I interviewed Colin last December right before Christmas about his first impressions of the XO.)

My own OLPC!!!

The XO arrived this afternoon in the mail, and by the time I got home after six my 10 year old son had already been exploring its applications. He was not able to get it online by himself, however, for reasons I’ll detail below. I’ve spent a couple of hours this evening using it to read my Google Reader “education” feeds and learning about the XO’s different features via the Getting started section of the OLPC wiki. There is so much to learn, but so far I have found the XO very easy to explore and use. The applications which come pre-installed on it are diverse in their functionalities, and will take quite awhile to explore in their own right.

The main challenge to using the XO for me is the size of the keyboard: It’s definitely made for small hands and fingers. When my 8 year old daughter returns from her Washington DC trip, I’m wondering if she is going to want to take charge of it– especially since it will fit her hands quite well! As I detailed a bit in my April post “If you just want to play games online, don’t get an XO,” I did have a chance (thanks to Mark Ahlness and Glenn Malone) to play with XOs during the NCCE conference in Seattle back in February. Based on the brief introduction I’ve had to the XO and its setup / menu system, I was readily able to explore and use applications as well as the computer’s basic functionalities. I love the size and weight, and think I may enjoy its functionality as an eBook reader more than anything else in the evenings!

Mark Ahlness, Glenn Malone, and Wesley Fryer in Seattle for NCCE with XO laptops!

My first technical challenge with the XO was getting it on our home wireless network. It wasn’t hard to do, but I had to disable the WPA2 encryption I have been using for some time with the Airport Express router and access point we use at home. I couldn’t get the XO to accept our WPA2 password, which I expected would be the case based on what I’ve heard from others like Mark, but I couldn’t get it to accept a 128 bit or 40 bit WEP password either. So, for now our home network is open / not encrypted. For the first several years we had wireless Internet access at home, I simply hid the SSID of our network and left encryption off. At that time, before the 802.11g standard was available, there seemed to be a noticeable slowdown when using WEP encryption over WiFi. I wanted as fast a connection as possible, and it seemed to be “enough” of a precaution to just hide our wireless network from neighbors who might “borrow” our wireless network if it was visible and available.

Since I turned off all network encryption this evening, I was curious if any of our neighbors might be on our network without permission. I’ve actually been a bit distressed with what I found. Since that is a bit of a different topic, however, I’ll leave that discussion for my next post. I AM going to need to get some help updating the firmware on the XO (if that is the right word – the operating system version) because I think the newer versions WILL support WPA2 wireless encryption. Apparently that IS going to be needed in my neighborhood… more about that later. My understanding of current consumer wireless encryption standards is that WEP is almost worthless (although tons of people use it) and easily hacked/circumvented by someone with a basic knowledge of wireless networking hacking and some free software tools like airsnort, kismet, and aircrack. WPA and WPA2 encryption standards have NEVER been cracked– yet, from what I understand, and free or commercial software tools are NOT available (yet) which permit would-be hackers from getting into your wireless network secured with these protocols.

Thank you Colin for the XO! You are THE MAN! Now I have much to learn about the XO….. :-)

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  • http://kevinhoneycutt.org Kevin Honeycutt

    Cool! Wow can I mess with it at NECC?

  • http://lardbucket.org Andy

    For what it’s worth, both WPA and WPA2 (PSK variations only) have been slightly broken. Programs like aircrack-ng allow dumping of packets created when a computer associates with the wireless network, which can then be attacked offline via brute-force methods. The encryption itself hasn’t been broken, but an offline attack can be made easier through several variables as well. That said, both are significantly more secure than WEP, and will keep 98% of recreational attackers out.

  • Dean Mantz

    I would love to learn more about the XO and how it may be a great option for our elementary schools.

  • Pingback: Neighbors on my WiFi? False Alarm? » Moving at the Speed of Creativity()

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Of course Kevin! :-)

    Thanks for the updates on WPA and WPA2 encryption, Andy. I’m sorry to hear they have been cracked, but glad they are still pretty secure for most situations– as you say, certainly better than WEP.

    Dean: I am really looking forward to using the XO and learning more about it for the same reason. Between the XO, the eeePc, and other sub-$1000 laptops I think more and more people will be seeing the fiscal reasonability of 1:1 learning projects soon. I certainly hope so.

  • http://ahlness.com Mark Ahlness

    Wes, I am smiling bigtime as I read your post. Not because of the hassles, of course, but because of the potential you have seen and now have a chance to go for.

    If you have not upgraded to build 656, try it.

    If online, type this in terminal:

    su -l
    olpc-update 656

    All info here: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Olpc-update

    Let me know when you’re online reliably, and we can connect via a jabber server! – Mark

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Mark:

    Thanks so much for this tip! I gave this a try but got the following error:

    Downloading contents of build 656.
    @ERROR: Unexpected server greeting: fakeroot, while creating message channels: Invalid argument
    rsync error: error starting client-server protocol (code 5) at main.c(1383) [receiver=2.6.9]

    Could not dowload update contents file from:
    rsync://updates.laptop.org/build-656/contents
    I don’t think the requested build number exists

    Since that didn’t work I tried the “Workaround: updating olpc-update” instructions on the same wiki page you sent, and the update downloaded to 30%. However, I then got the error:

    Cannot write to ‘/tmp/X/617-save.img’ (No space left on device).

    I will try the USB update option later this evening! :-)

  • http://www.g4classes.com/learningforward Kent Chesnut

    Wesley,
    I found this page about connecting to WPA manually… http://wiki.laptop.org/go/WPA_Manual_Setting. I only tried for a few minutes but wasn’t able to get it to work on a corporate network (unfortunately, it has a hidden SSID… maybe that’s the problem).
    Good luck with the XO,
    Kent

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Great news- after installiing the update I was able to get the XO on my home network using a WPA2 password no problem! I moderatered a few blog comments and am writing this comment on the XO now in fact! :-)

  • http://ahlness.com Mark Ahlness

    Wes – congratulations! Have you ever has as much fun moving so slowly on a computer? :) I just posted a blog article from my back yard, complete with flickr picture, totally from an XO – took me like an hour. But when it works, wohoo! – Mark

    ps – let me know if you’d like to connect to a jabber server. Mine are all on school.letschange.org – don’t you love the name? :)

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