Archive for September, 2005

Fearing the Wrath of Federal Funders?

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

In today’s afternoon session, moderator Howard Anderson is trying to provoke a group of panelists representing universities and the private sector with questions about America’s engineering and innovation crisis. He asked them to comment on the idea that major govt agencies like the nsf, which were once independent and nonpartisan in their funding priorities, have now become partisan and beholden to ideology. No one would comment. Members of the audience mumbled. The silence of the panelists was deafening. There is a palpable fear of criticizing the govt’s funding priorities in science and technology since universities and the private sector so often rely on govt funding largesse. It was a telling, somewhat disturbing moment… -andy

Social Computing Roundtable

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Notes from the social computing roundtable at the MIT Tech Review conference.
Panelists:
Joshua Schecter, del.icio.us
Mark Cordover, it.com
Dennis Crowley, dodgeball.com
Chris Heathcote, Nokia
Crowley: Moving social software to the offline world. We spent a summer playing with Friendster while developing it. the difference is that online profiles allow users to connect in person using mobile phones. let’s people in a 10 block radius link up. Users can create crush lists- people you find cute.
MIT media lab rep: using tone of voice to judge emotion, interest. One tool will help people negotiate better, another detects depression.
Cordover: The wisdom of crowds. group intelligence algorithms. talked about the intro of paper currency in the 18th century. real estate values jumped around the base of operation. a crazy, frenzied atmosphere. “men it has been well said, think in herds and go mad in herds, but they recover their senses one by one.” Charles Mackay. if you put group diversity together with individuality you can get group wisdom. just give them wireless ICTs. they allow for the aggregation of diverse thinking. it.com now has a search database to discern who the players are around a particular meme, the players in an IT space.
del.icio.us: a system for socially sharing info. now focused on url sharing. users find they like, tag them- about one per second. each user builds their own taxonomy for categorizing info they care about. group patterns rise out of individual behavior.
Heathcote: we make phones, so why are we here? there are more phones than tvs, credit cards or cars. phones connect people. social structures have gone from family and friends to communities of shared interest. (a culture of likemindedness, methinks -ac) phone manufactures must work to innovate social networking technologies. place will be the next big thing in social computing.

Tom DeLay Indicted

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Meanwhile, breaking news from the world of politics, courtesy of CNN: ” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay indicted on one count of criminal conspiracy by Texas grand jury, according to Travis County clerk’s office.”

Congress Abandons WikiConstitution

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

A priceless news spoof from the Onion. -andy

WASHINGTON, DC├é┬ŚCongress scrapped the open-source, open-edit, online
version of the Constitution Monday, only two months after it went live.
“The idea seemed to dovetail perfectly with our tradition of democratic
participation,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. “But when
so-called ‘contributors’ began loading it down with profanity,
pornography, ASCII art, and mandatory-assault-rifle-ownership
amendments, we thought it might be best to cancel the project.” Congress
intends to restore the Constitution to its pre-Wiki format as soon as an
unadulterated copy of the document can be found.

Busted

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

So here I am at the Cambridgeside Galleria getting the bad news from techs at the Apple Store. The person who kicked my laptop managed to bust its DC inboard, meaning that it can’t be recharged without replacing the inboard. They said they need a week to fix it. I plan to get a second opinion.
In the meantime, I’m without a working laptop. I’ll do my best to blog and podcast from my phone until my fingers cramp up. Keep your fingers crossed. -andy

Stuck at the Apple Store

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

While everyone else is back at the conference, I get to spend my lunch break at the Cambridgeside Apple Store, hoping they can fix my laptop’s power port in time for the 1:45pm breakout sessions. Feel the drama in this podcast from the store. -andy

Nolan Bushnell and Dean Kamen

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Here’s a podcast of presentations by Nolan Bushnell and Dean Kamen. It’s in Windows Media Format rather than an MP3 because I’m running out of power and probably won’t have enough to convert it before my computer shuts down. I’ll post an MP3 version later.
Nolan Bushnell is near and dear to my heart because he created two of the most important icons of my childhood: Atari computers and Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria arcades. It certainly was great seeing him speak in person. He has an uncanny resemblance to Francis Ford Coppola – at least that’s how it seemed from me 50 feet back in the auditorium. Dean Kamen, meanwhile, is best known to the general public for inventing the Segway, but he’s also one of the most prolific inventors of medical technologies alive today. He spent his time talking about inventing affordable, simple water purification systems for the developing world.
Quote of the morning: “In this country, we produce more students with university degrees in sports management than we do in engineering.” – Dean Kamen
Nolan and Dean weren’t the only speakers in the panel, but I’m facing a race against time now that my AC power cord is busted and I’ve got less than an hour of power left. So I cut the podcast short so I could upload it before my power dies. I’m also gonna have to skip lunch and run over to the local Apple Store and beg, plead, bribe, blackmail, flirt and debate my way to some lightning service to get my laptop fixed prior to the 1:30pm breakout sessions featuring the creators of Flickr, del.icio.us and other uber-cool technologies… -ac

Morning Conference Break

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

A brief mobile phone podcast from the MIT Technology Review conference, prior to someone killing my laptop’s AC power supply. 54 minutes of power left and counting. -andy

People Should Wear Slippers At Conferences

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

People should wear slippers at conferences. Why do I say that? Because otherwise they trample your laptop, even if placed in safe, hidden spots, and break your AC adapter in such a way that the male plug of the adapter snaps off and jams into your laptop’s power input.
So to whomever kicked my laptop. Thanks bunches. I’ve got about 90 minutes of power left before I’ll have to skip the lunch here and get over to the local Apple store and pray they can fix it asap. Otherwise, my blogging from the conference will be cut way short. Ugh. -andy

Creating the $100 Laptop

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005
Nicholas Negroponte

Nicholas Negroponte talks about the $100 laptop

The fifth annual MIT Technology Review Emerging Technology Conference kicked off this morning with a presentation from Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab. Negroponte discussed his $100 laptop initiative, in which he is working to produce a low-cost laptop for mass distribution in k-12 schools in the developing world.
“It is the most important project I’ve ever done in my life… The reception it’s received has been incredible,” he said. “The idea is simple – it’s to look at education. This is an education project, not just a laptop project. If you take any world problem – peace, the environment, poverty – the solution to that problem certainly includes education. And if you have a solution that doesn’t include education, than it’s not a real solution at all.”
“In emerging nations, the issue is not connectivity,” Negroponte continued. “It was the issue; it’s not a solved problem, but there are many people and many systems working on it… It’s happening; it doesn’t need me, MIT or the Media Lab. But for education, the roadblock is the laptop.”
Negroponte told the story of building schools in Cambodia. He gave students laptops to bring home, but they came back the next day, the laptops unused. Their parents would not let them use them because they were worried they’d break it. The students went back home with a note saying they didn’t have to worry about the cost of the laptops; the parents loved them because they were the brightest lights they had in the home. In the first three years, only one laptop out of 50 broke (though all the AC adapters died). “Why is that? It’s because of ownership. The kids polished them, made bags for them; they certainly wouldn’t get broken.”
Later, MIT’s Seymour Papert helped persuade the state of Maine to give laptops to all middle school students. This raised the possibility of expanding the program internationally, particularly to the developing world.
“Since communications isn’t the problem, can we make that laptop now cost $100?” Negroponte said that it was important to make this a nonprofit initiative, so all monies made could go into helping lower the cost of the laptop, rather than satisfying shareholders.
“Scale is important, but not for the obvious reasons. It’s important because of mindset, attitude and share.” When he’s talked with companies about getting involved, “you’re immediately dismissed, until you say you need 200 million units.”
“Impossible at MIT is a code word for ‘do it.’”

100 dollar laptop

Image of Negroponte’s $100 laptop

The laptop’s display is a major focus of the Media Lab’s efforts. They’ve managed to bring the cost down to $35 per display. It’s a dual mode display – a 7″ screen, as well as a reflective display that can be read in bright daylight. Eventually he hopes the display will cost 10 cents per square inch, and will be produced by being printed on an e-ink printer, technology developed by the Media Lab.
A lot of the cost of the laptop goes to supporting the operating system, he explained. “You try to download a PDF, and you’re waiting and waiting; it’s gotten so slow and unreliable… SO we’ve started over, going skinny linux, skinny open source… It lowers costs and gives you a faster experience.”
“Design is important. A lot of people think low-end products need to look cheap and be cheap.” He showed a picture of it, describing how it would work with a wind-up crank for power, and would seal hermetically when closed to prevent damage. The swivel for raising the display would also be a handle, which the AC cord will also serve as the shoulder strap.
At the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, they’ll launch “tethered prototypes” – working demo units. The beta units, expected to come out in one year, will number from five to 15 million units, expected to be deployed in five countries and the commonwealth of Massachusetts. By year two, they hope to reach 150 million units.
He mentioned Wikipedia as an example of a major source of content for the initiative, and asked how many people in the audience use it – about 50%. “It’s by far the best encyclopedia on the planet,” he said. “It’s so fresh, so current, if you go look up yourself, you’re probably in it.”
“It’s the Wikipedia equivalent (of hardware),” he said, describing the spirit of the laptop initiative.