[LINK] $100 laptop could sell to public

Stewart Fist stewart_fist at optusnet.com.au
Mon Jan 22 10:14:44 AEDT 2007

In reply to Richard, Stephen writes:

>> The OLPC is driven by fine sentiments and laudable enthusiasm.
>> So what is the sin in asking these questions?

> If that were all, then, great ... it's comments like in your last post that
> I must say get me down regarding a philanthropic education initiative.

>> After so many years of fighting for education resources, in every way
>> I can, it's a difficult habit to break. By all means, whinge-on my friend,
>> but please just logically support your arguments, and i will also. Fair?

But don't assume you are the only one who has been fighting for education
resources, Stephen.  Or that people can't disagree with you without being
irrational nay-sayers.

I ran the National Industry and Education Training faculty (called Open
Program) of the Australian Film, Radio and TV School for four years (in its
foundation days).  And I spent a lot of that time touring Australia looking
at electronic video, A/V and film resources in universities and schools, and
how they were being used.

Most purchases were too costly, too elaborate, too delicate, and too
technical for their applications, because the decisions to buy were in the
hands of technical types, rather than the educators.

I also spent more than 20 years as a part-time (and honorary) consultant to
the old UNESCO's Development of Communications Division, then later to the
South Pacific Form. They sent me to over a dozen countries in Asia and the
Pacific Islands to either run training programs or to determine technical

For instance, I was part of a three-man team that went into
pre-Army-controlled Burma, and preparing a report on the technical needs of
the Burmese Government Film Unit (at a time when video was first coming in).
We also had to report as to how it should build its film and video
distribution network to schools and villages in the whole country.   They
used bullock-cart trains at that time to transport 35 mm projectors and
portable generators to the more remote parts.

I also wrote a report on the conversion of the Burmese TV system from a
hybrid  (Japanese gifted and inspire) NTSC-based 525-line but 50Hz and
250volt transmission system, to standard PAL -- and we then had to prepare
the basic equipment list for their new studio/transmitter.

On the spot experience was essential:
€ We needed to take into account that power (and therefore air-conditioning)
was totally unreliable in Rangoon.
€ We also had to be aware that backup generators were inevitably
requisitioned by the Army.

And there were thousands of other problems like:
€ Most studio microphones won't survive in the tropics (only dynamic mikes
would last more than a year).
€ Lenses got covered (internally) with fungus in this humidity.
€ The Burmese didn't have foreign-exchange priorities that allowed lenses to
be sent overseas for refurbishing (it had to be done in-house), etc. etc.
and that meant training someone in lens disassemly.
€ Over half the transport vehicles for the TV station and film unit were out
of action for most of the time because they didn't have the foreign-exchange
sums needed for replacement parts.
€ The nation's film archives (Independence Day footage, etc) was stored in a
tin-sided shack in the jungle behind the film-unit. Air-conditioning and
temperature control consisted of sliding open a sheet of galvanised iron
when the room became too hot.
--- etc. etc. etc.

So my observations about the enormous amount of wasted money through
over-engineering in education and communications, both in Australia and in
Third World countries, isn't the product of either ignorance or malice.  It
comes from years of experience.

Stewart Fist, writer, journalist, film-maker
70 Middle Harbour Road, LINDFIELD, 2070, NSW, Australia
Ph +61 (2) 9416 7458

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