Posts about Gadgets

One laptop for the price of five

I love the One Laptop per Child project (David Weinberger takes one for a spin here) and think the criticism of it motivated by PC nitwittery (‘you should solve every other problem the poor have before giving them a laptop’) or competitive greed (‘how dare you make an inexpensive machine with inexpensive software?’) is ridiculous, even offensive.

My only complaint about the laptop crusade is that they won’t sell them to us rich people. I think they should — at wildly inflated prices. Sell me a $100 laptop for $500 and thus I’ll buy laptops for four children somewhere in the world. That beats a PBS pledge gift.

And let my school district, which is rich, buy them for $300 each, giving each child here a machine to use in school — which they don’t have now — and thus subsidizing laptops for schools that could not afford them. The Robin Hood gambit. I’ll bet the investment my school makes now in classroom machines and laptop carts is equivalent. And there are fringe benefits: The school could save on textbooks by putting curriculum on the network. The students could all now work in collaborative tools — class wikis. The town gets the start of a mesh network. And the students get tools they should have. My son is lugging an 8-pound Dell around to class (we don’t want to bang up the more precious, working Mac) so he can take notes and the teachers love that he does; they’d like to see every student taking good notes and being connected. At CUNY, we got every student a Mac laptop and I can tell you it’s great working without technology barriers to learning.

This also changes the competitive landscape for the PC business. Machines will get cheaper and use more open software to do so, which will put them in more hands.

Most important, this changes the economics of scale for the laptop crusade, too. The more they can make, the cheaper they will be to make (they actually cost about $150 each now). Demand is a good thing.

To start, I’d take 100 of these great machines and sell them on eBay as a benefit. I have no doubt that early adopters would stampede to get their hands on the things and help spread the technology they adore to the world. The bidding starts at $1,000. How’s that for a markup?

TiVo (almost) anything

TiVo is lighting lots of little fires under the explosion of TV. Two new blazes today: Saul Hansell reports that with the purchase of $25 software, users will be able to watch video from their computers on their TVs, via their TiVos — competing with Apple’s coming iTV. And TiVo is announcing a deal with One True Media to allow you to send your videos to a friend’s TiVo.

Except convergence ain’t easy. Hansell outlines the issues: To download and play things directly off the TiVo box, you have to convert video to MP2. The new TiVo setup forces you to download the video to your PC and play it to the TV from there; this widens the scope to MP4, QuickTime, and some Windows Media. But it cannot play Flash — which is what YouTube and other such services use — and cannot play movies with copyright protection. It’s Beta-VHS hell multiplied tenfold.

The simple fact is that we want to watch our stuff wherever we want to watch it. So the consumer electronics, media, and internet industries need to get their acts together to enable this. I fear this will take time. Look how long it is taking to get a 39-cent iPod plug built into car stereos.

Blogging in the bloodstream

We’ve been moving furniture all day, from my son’s old room to my old office (I’m lucky enough to have a new one at home). My wife got these nonstick furniture sliders (kind of like these) that she insisted — “I saw it on TV” — would make it a breeze to slide heavy dressers down the hall. I was dubious. I often am. But damned they didn’t work, beautifully. Like skating on ice. I confessed my mistake to my wife; I was amazed. And we thought the same thing at the same time. “You going to blog this?” she asked. Of course.

Forbidden visuals

The last thing I wanted to wake up to was the image of Walt Mossberg on the toilet.


Adverblog says advertisers are starting to buy space on airport electrical outlets. If only airports had electrical outlets.