Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Grace Hopper Talks

It's been awhile since Grace Hopper, but so far I've managed not to lose my enthusiasm. I went to two talks that have especially stayed with me. This year it wasn't the career advice talks but the keynote and technical talks that were really exciting for me. The two keynote speakers were Fran Allen and Mary Lou Jepsen. All I can say is "wow."

OLPC Ghana - One Laptop Per Child has a pilot program in Ghana right now. Suzanne Buchele, who helped to start the program when she was in Ghana on a Fulbright, was there to talk about it. Having lived in Ghana and gone to a (renowned) Ghanaian school there (Achimota) for a semester when I was in high school, it was especially exciting to see pictures and think about the many ways in which these laptops would improve the education of the students. Teachers often (even at Achimota) don't show up to class, textbooks are not plentiful, and much of the learning is done by rote instead of with understanding. When I was in school there I was put into a second year Chemistry class when I had never had a first year one (I was placed according to my math class, so a lot of other subjects were a bit out of whack). I kept asking the other students what a mole was and though they could answer every Chemistry question relating to moles, I never got a satisfying answer. The students there were some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and serious students I have ever met. They studied late into the night borrowing previous years' tests from upperclassmen for additional studying. I know that if they had had access to computers (even without the internet, even with only a few additional textbooks on the computer) they would have made great use of them. I'm sure their younger counterparts are the same.

Since the talk I've been thinking about ways I or others could help with OLPC. I'm hoping to go to Ghana for a few weeks in the Spring (mostly because I miss it) and was wondering if there was any way for me to help in that short time. There's probably not, but it made me think that study abroad programs should be recruited to help out. A school could train a large group of students in the US to set up servers, teach teachers how to use the laptops, etc. and then send them all around the world on study abroad where they could help with OLPC in their country. Currently I think that OLPC isn't very good at using and planning for the large number of volunteers they could harness. I hope this improves so that programs like this can happen.

Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award Winner - This talk was given by Elaine Weyuker who I know from AT&T Labs. I had never gotten to hear her give a talk on her research and in fact other than "software testing" as a general category, I had no idea what she did. She gave a great talk about using information from previous releases to predict where bugs in the current release would be found. It was especially interesting because of the issues with realistic modeling I was discussing earlier. Elaine's research is absolutely practical, and she and her co-authors took great pains to make sure that was so. They interviewed practitioners and actually changed their research accordingly. While this option is, of course, not always directly available for theoretical projects, it was satisfying to hear about research conducted in this way. And, as always, satisfying simply to hear a talk by a very intelligent woman in computer science.


Edward said...

Thank you for explaining about OLPC Ghana. As founder of Earth Treasury, I will be in Ghana to arrange for donations of computers running OLPC's Sugar software, and for microfinance of broadband Internet and backup electricity for a school and its surrounding community. We will also discuss the possibilities for e-commerce in the community.

We know that much more will be needed at this site, throughout Ghana, across Africa, and around the world. We will have many volunteer opportunities on site or over the Internet. More information and how to contact Earth Treasury is at

Anyone who would like to get an OLPC XO laptop for personal use or as a present for a child should watch
Sales start Nov. 17.

sorelle said...

Edward - Thanks for the information!

I'd definitely recommend to everyone considering getting your own XO. I got one through the give one get one program last year and it's perfect to have as a travel laptop when all you need is to be able to check email and do small work things. It's even been backpacking around Europe with me. Plus it's just cool.