Gadgets & Hacks

Reality of One Laptop Per Child?

So much has been written about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project that I won’t rehash it in this post, but will say that my position has always been that the primary value in the OLPC project is that the Internet is the biggest shift in human communications and knowledge storage ever, and ideas, innovations and human connection now move at the speed of electrons. Denying anyone, any kid, from being a part of that shift — no matter how small and regardless of the technology used to participate in it — is relegating them to a future of intellectual and knowledge poverty.

When I was invited to join the Institute of Distributed Creativity mailing list (comprised of many academics and thought leaders in education, learning, social media and more), I was part of a very spirited discussion about the OLPC with people’s opinions being slanted toward it being “male created technology” or that we Americans (OLPC head Nicholas Negroponte in specific) were acting as “imperalists” or “capitalists” within the context of OLPC, pushing our way and consumerism on the third world.

After participating in this OLPC discussion, I then ranted on the list that I’d expected the list members would be comprised of deep thinkers and those who appreciate vision and are trying to move the world forward. People who push against the membrane of the future rather than pull back from it as critics (and I felt I was seeing more criticism than critical thinking). I’ve been accused of being a happy-assed optimist (my words) in the list with respect to technology and am guilty as charged, but at least Negronponte was doing something while the list members pontificated about their views of such a project and how it should be done or not done at all.

Then the thread went silent….until today when a man named Martin Lucas weighed in with such a well written counter-point to my optimism — and the varying perspectives about OLPC — that I asked him if I could publish it on my blog in total as it’s too good to leave on a closed list.

Continue on to read Martin Lucas’ “One Slate per Child” paper that gives a dose of reality — from someone on the ground in the African state of Malawi — about the reality of introducing the OLPC and obstacles faced in one country ostensibly a perfect target for OLPC…

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Macworld 2008: Tablet? Mac Touch? Let’s pay homage to the Apple Newton

Next week sees Steve Jobs on stage giving his Macworld 2008 keynote. Some things are obvious (new Mac Pro announcement this week shows machines starting at $2,798 so there’s a huge gap to be filled below it, probably with a midlevel, headless machine) and rumor speculation is rampant with an ultraportable Mac near the top of the list.

I still have an Apple Newton with an Apple fixed asset tag on it (they didn’t want it back when I left the company in 1999). While I didn’t like it well enough to have paid money for it (even with my employee discount), the handwriting recognition in the 2.0 software was excellent and not rivaled for several years until Microsoft debuted the Tablet PC.

In the spirit of yesterday’s post of how slooowly things move — and that each of us should be grateful and amazed by how far we’ve come in such a short time — let’s pay a little homage to the Newton by viewing this getting started video for the device. Seeing how archaic it seems today will surely make you appreciate the ease-of-use of a touch-enabled iPhone or iPod Touch all the more and get you ready for whatever “one more thing” happens next Tuesday.

I bet it will be “touchy”.

Getting Started with Apple Newton

CES: Hey Linksys…it’s 2008!

In a day of accelerating Macintosh market share (Windows is still over 90% of the market…though declining) and where Internet-centric applications, communications and participatory social media make your device choice less relevant, I’m taken aback when a vendor the size of Linksys (owned by Cisco) announces a brand new, very affordable ($120 or $99 street price) stand-alone webcam that only supports Windows.

Linksys’ User Guide says this in the FAQ, “The Camera is designed for computers running a Windows operating system and Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher. You cannot view video on a Macintosh.

This lack of support is not what many people experience with, for example, their ISP (mine is Comcast) who often state, “Ahh…we don’t support the Macintosh” but it turns out they don’t because they don’t have that machine sitting in front of them to troubleshoot nor has the ISP’s customer service group created scripts for the clueless drones to read.

This is no exaggeration: Out of the 100 or so geeks and early adopters that I know, well over 90% of them use Macs. Most have RAM maxed out and are using Parallels to run Windows and Linux within a virtual container inside of Mac OS X (I do the same thing, though mostly for goofin’ around vs. serious geek work). Every company chases influencers — especially in a day where social media is exploding and people want guidance as complexity increases — so it’s really puzzling why Linksys would turn its back on influencers.

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Is that an LED projector in your pocket?

Minnesota-based 3M announced today that they have released an earpiece-sized LED projector for mobile and handheld device projection.

3M is now providing consumer electronics manufacturers with a revolutionary advancement in the emerging field of miniature projection technology. 3M scientists developed a breakthrough ultra-compact, LED-illuminated projection engine designed for integration into virtually any personal electronic device. Roughly the size of a wireless earpiece and less than half an inch thick, the 3M mobile projection engine delivers brilliant VGA resolution images and is available today.

This company creates and develops alot of cool technology, but is primarily a supplier of infrastructure materials or building blocks that others turn into finished goods. They do say in the press release that they are “…partnering with leading consumer electronics companies that plan to launch products in early 2008.

Before I get too excited I’ll have to see one in action. Though I love the several smaller-than-dime-sized-lens 7 megapixel Panasonic and Canon cameras we own, when I’m serious about a photograph I’ll grab my Nikon digital SLR with its huge sensor and lens about the size of a small apple. The resulting image is low on noise and high on clarity.

Of course, cost and convenience are why we always buy the tiny, less qualitatively nice gear, heh? When I look at this tiny little projector component in the 3M picture, I can’t help but remember wheeling  a huge Sony 3 gun projector (like this one) into a large group presentation and have been enjoying the continued reduction in size — and increase in quality — of the small projectors. At some point I’ll buy one when I’m confident a small one will be decent.

Comcast: No iChat, No Choice

Since I rarely use Bittorrent and have experienced just a few issues with using Skype (and none with Vonage) services over my Comcast High Speed Internet connection, the confirmed accusations of Comcast’s packet shaping have been troubling but haven’t yet personally affected me and — like most of us with so-called “broadband” (which others outside the US laugh at in terms of speed) — we have no choice in high speed providers unless we want to go dog slow with some flavor of DSL or go back to using a modem.

In a bizarre twist, what has affected me is a quite useful product (iChat) and I’m growing madder by the day: Using Apple’s iChatAV in a session with video or screen sharing starts off just fine but within minutes deteriorates and becomes unusable (pixelated video, audio dropouts, slow response with screensharing).

iChatAV is incredibly useful since my 81 year old Dad, my sister and other family members have it and I can easily perform remote management of their machines through simple chat. It’s so laughingly easy that it has taken me minutes to teach someone how to use audio and video chat or to share my screen — or ask to share theirs so I can troubleshoot some difficulty they’re having — and thus I can sprinkle my knowledge around as needed and help my loved ones out (without getting in the car and driving over or flying).

I’m not the only one that is having this issue as evidenced by this Macintouch thread here (look at October 2007 comments on) as well as this long one in the iChat AV forum at Apple’s site. There are numerous fixes people have tried (throttling iChat’s bandwidth; rebooting the modem; opening a window and shouting) which sometimes works and mostly doesn’t.

After the jump, you’ll see the note I just wrote to Rick Germano, the SVP of Comcast Customer Service and a link to a page you can use to also send Mr. Germano a nice note…although he and his executive cronies at Comcast probably sit around at cocktail parties guffawing over people having issues with their service, “Oh yeah….so what are they gonna do….switch!?!” (Insert a bunch of lit-up guys howling with laughter here).

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NetRadio’s 1995 debut in Minneapolis

If you weren’t deeply immersed in the Internet’s early days as I was, it’s hard to remember the pain, the obstacles and the now almost quaint state-of-the-art in 1995.

It was that year in November that NetRadio made its debut here in Minneapolis and is an invention and milestone that needs to be lauded and remembered. Invented by Scott Bourne and Scot McCombs (more here), NetRadio used RealAudio‘s first player and server technology to run. A former Authorware (now part of Adobe) colleague of mine, Rob Griggs, was an early investor and co-founder and he invited me to the offices you’ll see in the video below (via TWiT) to see their new radio offering streaming over the Internet.

At the time I was impressed and could easily visualize the possibilities, but also knew in every cell of my being how long it would take before this was anything more than cool and a novelty. In fact, my belief as to one, key cause of the dotcom crash was that there was a HUGE amount of Web content pouring into the top of the funnel (i.e., being served) and most of us were sipping through the tiny hole at the bottom of the funnel (i.e., with dial-up 56k modems) and there was no way rich media of any kind — including low audio quality radio — would yet flourish over copper wires for quite some time.

In 1995 there were, as the video points out, roughly “110,000 Web sites” and that NetRadio received “about 25,000 Web visitors in the first few days“. Impressive at the time, but so was the Model T in 1908.

Biker identified with iPod: Adam Finley

Turns out that the 30 year old guy, Adam Finley, who was hit and killed on his bike near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis last Thursday — and was identified only because the police worked with Apple Security First Tech Apple experts to identify him from the iPod he was carrying — was a blogger and TV Squad is reprinting some of his articles in memoriam.

It also brought back bad memories since I was hit by a car jogging on that exact same intersection when I was 29 years old, carrying no identification and listening to a Sony FM Walkman at the time.

Site of Collision (click for larger view)

A drunk was making a left turn westbound Lake Street and fortunately was going very slowly. I turned and saw him at the last minute simply coming at me and it gave me time to leap up in the air, landing on the hood of his car. I slid off, he hit the brakes and the rear tire ended up six inches from my head.

Others snagged his keys and kept him there until police arrived, and I was just damn lucky I wasn’t killed — it just tore my jacket and gave me a few bumps and bruises. Adam’s untimely death — though I didn’t know him or read his blog — really has given me pause about how quickly things can go the other way, how lucky I was and how I’ve carried identification ever since when I’m out running or biking.

Take a moment and think about how interesting it is to live in a time when digital breadcrumb trails can be left by people like Adam in blogs, podcasts, MySpace pages…or by you…and how good it is to remember someone partially by the contributions they’ve made. I think often about preserving my blog and podcasts to be discovered by some interested descendant of mine who might wonder who I was and what was happening when I was alive. In a small way, I now have a glimpse into Adam Finley whose life stopped far too early.

Hacking the iPhone

For the last month I’ve been hacking my iPhone with iFuntastic. Adding ringtones, moving stuff around and so on is fun…but I want more. I want applications. Why? Because as much as I enjoy and truly love my iPhone, I’m bored. I’d love to be able to buy an application, for instance, that would allow me to have a To Do list that is useful (that little note pad is pretty worthless).

The problem is that the hacks don’t work well and few developers are willing to invest in application development if the runtime is dependent upon a hack to make it work. For example, iFuntastic allows icons alone or icons with captions…but not all turn off. It’s a little thing but it ruins the aesthetic of the iPhone when it’s all kludgy looking. An Apple update for the iPhone often removes the hack and a restore is necessary…not something a developer would be to keen on.

This post on Lifehacker is one I’ll try next.

Whether or not you have an iPhone or if you’ve hacked it or not, the energy around trying to arm-wrestle this device into submission is one in which I delight. There are people just like me — bored but with the technical acumen to actually hack the device — that are providing ways to customize it. The recent SIM card hack is one example of how people are figuring out how to make it more useful, including having it run in places Apple would prefer it doesn’t at this time.

What is interesting about this phenomena is how companies try to position and control technology and its release…but people mold, bend and shape it to their own ends. With the instant access to news and information (and how-to’s) flying around the internet at the speed of electrons, control is being lost and quickly.

Are you *still* naked in a coffee shop?

Chris Pirillo’s Lockergnome email newsletter had a link to this article Travelers Who Use Laptop Computers: Beware and it made me realize that there are now even more people accessing Wifi hotspots than ever before and most of you are naked.

Back in January of 2005 I wrote “Are you naked?” as a post that had this paragraph in it:

Security is an issue other than just at home…but it’s an underreported problem in internet cafes or public places that leave their networks wide open so it’s easy to get on them. Without a company Virtual Private Network (VPN) for your personal laptop, or some way to create a Secure Shell (SSH) to another computer for a secure tunnel, you’re vulnerable to prying eyes (email passwords go in the clear, etc.).

The latest discussions about the iPhone “hack” (which I posted about a couple of days ago here) is bringing more attention to the inherent insecurity of Wifi hotspots. While I know exactly what to do to ensure I and my loved ones have secure access when in a public hotspot, literally everyone else I know is completely clueless.

Case in point: while at the Web 2.0 Summit last October, I mentioned to several conference organizers that there were a significant number of ad hoc wireless networks setup (where a person sets up their laptop to act like a wireless access point) with names like “Free Wifi” or “Summit Wireless Access” placing attendees in jeopardy of nakedly exposing their data.  One conference leader who shall remain unnamed said, “Steve, of any group of people this one especially shouldn’t be stupid enough to connect to an ad hoc network.” You know what? In my informal poll of 20 people while there, every one of them had attempted to connect to one of these ad hoc networks since the main conference access point was either slow or they couldn’t get connected to it.

The good news? There are specific things you can do to make certain you’re secure when accessing a public hotspot.

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Questionable iPhone ‘hack’…unless you’re a bonehead

NEWS FLASH: If someone steals your iPhone, they can see all your contacts and make calls and send SMS messages on your account.

Apparently there is a new iPhone hack that allows hackers to take control of an iPhone and send off personal data residing in the iPhone memory — but it’s about as big a threat as having your iPhone stolen and I assume you keep control of your $500-$600 device. Upon seeing a link to this New York Times article, I was initially and instantly concerned and thought “Oh, that’s just great….the first security problem with the iPhone.” until I read it thoroughly.

Upon reading the site Exploiting the iPhone, I thought “What’s the fuss all about?”  The exploit is delivered via the Safari browser on the iPhone but the risks seem quite low. Read these three points very, very carefully before you get too excited or concerned about this so-called exploit:

1) An attacker controlled wireless access point: Because the iPhone learns access points by name (SSID), if a user ever gets near an attacker-controlled access point with the same name (and encryption type) as an access point previously trusted by the user, the iPhone will automatically use the malicious access point. This allows the attacker to add the exploit to any web page browsed by the user by replacing the requested page with a page containing the exploit.

2) A misconfigured forum website: If a web forum’s software is not configured to prevent users from including potentially dangerous data in their posts, an attacker could cause the exploit to run in any iPhone browser that viewed the thread. (This would require some slight changes in our proof of concept exploit, however.)

3) A link delivered via e-mail or SMS: If an attacker can trick a user into opening a website that the attacker controls, the attacker can easily embed the exploit into the main page of the website.

Are these real possibilities? Yes, but remote unless an iPhone user is a complete bonehead. Most forums disallow HTML in forum posts because of malicious stuff being put in and links in emails from those you don’t know should NOT be clicked on (and if you DO click on them, DON’T ANYMORE). Spurious links in SMS are rare, and who is getting spam SMS messages anyway?

Of course, I suppose most people are so naive and inexperienced that perhaps they don’t think critically about security online and I guess those of us more savvy have to protect them against themselves. I just don’t see the threat being all that big a deal unless you’re with that group of security researchers at Independent Security Evaluators who uncovered the ‘exploit’ and are certain to have done it to gain attention (which they got….thank you New York Times).