Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, January 21, 2021

child's play
It’s been close to three weeks since I received my XO Laptop from the One Laptop Per Child Project. Hopefully, the kid who got the counterpart laptop that I provided in this donation package has had more opportunity to use his/her machine than I’ve had to use mine.

That said, I’ve poked around the XO enough to provide this capsule assessment:

The hardware is good. The software is bad.

A little detail on both those points:

The computer’s physical design is, in my view, an achievement. The goal was to manufacture a device that’s tailored to children who live in environments that aren’t pristine enough for standard, typically fragile notebooks. The XO delivers. It’s compact, sized for little hands and fingers to handle, and sports plenty of input keys for a kid to go to town. The swivel-screen that converts it into a rudimentary tablet PC, along with the wireless antennae that provide both wi-fi access and a mesh network, are the crowning achievement. The inclusion of videocamera was essential for maximizing the creative functionality. It’s not perfect — the membrane-covered keyboard seems to need a lot of breaking-in to be useful, and the touchpad area could have used more thought — but overall, the hands-on hardware aspect is a success.

The software, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to hold up its end. It’s Linux with a GUI interface, but it doesn’t strike me as intuitive. Maybe it’s my years-long conditioning to Windows and Mac, and the target audience of children without preconceived notions of how a computer desktop “should” function won’t have a problem with it. But I consider myself pretty adept at digital interfaces, so if I’m struggling with it, I’m not sure how well it’ll catch on.

Beyond the OS, I find the suite of programs loaded onto the XO to be, at best, a mixed bag, more tech-centric than it needs to be for schooling endusers. I don’t see the point in including code-programming apps like Pippy or even EToys, because that carries the assumption that the laptop is intended for use as a computer-science tool. That’s a quantum leap over the stated purpose of the XO as an enhancement to general education. On the other hand, the basic artwork and writing apps serve their purposes as creative outlets, and the TamTam Jam music-creation program in particular looks like a winner.

The OLPC Project has been criticized, in particular by Intel as it pursues its own, competing Classmate PC initiative. The objections poke holes at both the hardware and software of the XO, arguing that neither prepare the poor kids for standard Wintel machines they’d encounter if they advance to higher levels of education and work.

I don’t think that’s a valid argument when it comes to the hardware, but sadly, I have to agree on those points with the software. I don’t know that the XO has to run a Windows mimic, but something closer to a typical Microsoft Office setup would be a better prep for kids starting out with this computer. That would better fulfill the promise of OLPC, ultimately.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/21/2008 11:46:38 PM
Category: Society, Tech
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iscratchin
Any time I see a house DJ unloading sleeve after sleeve of CDs in preparation for a show, I automatically think: Dinosaur.

Which is unfair, because ultimately it doesn’t matter what the music is stored on, as long it’s pumping. But really, when iPods are so widespread and hold so many tracks, seeing a professional mixmaster clinging to discs (compact or, even, vinyl) is a signal that they’re not making the most of the tools that are available to them.

They’ll have no choice eventually, as iPods are already overtaking what used to be cutting-edge spinning:

In 2006, consumers in the United States spent about $125 million on D.J.- specific hardware, said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine in Englewood, N.J. Some $35 million of it was on CD players. But CD player sales are probably going to shrink.

“Instead of buying expensive CD players, people are starting to migrate to hard-drive devices, in many instances substituting an iPod for a CD machine,” he said. “The Numark iDJ2s have appeal both to consumers and mobile D.J.’s. You don’t need to haul as much stuff.”

The use of the iPod, often wielded by amateurs, has raised eyebrows among some professional D.J.’s. “It’s as though their guild is being infringed upon,” Mr. Majeski said.

The concept of whipping an iPod out of your pocket and instantly commencing on break-beating is appealing. Since I’m now in possession of two iPods — my everyday Touch and my now-backup Classic (nee Video) — it’s occurred to me that I could easily transport a party-to-go, provided there’s appropriate soundsystem equipment at the destination.

But as cool as that would be, the iPod’s playback interface doesn’t lend itself to true mixing. The Touch, especially, would be a pain to manipulate with fades and sound effects. The fact is, it wasn’t designed for aggressive playback. I guess that’s why these porting consoles are coming out.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/21/2008 08:32:06 PM
Category: Pop Culture, iPod
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Electronic Arts is revamping its “Battlefield” franchise as part of an attempt to shift its business model to free base-games that pay for themselves via Internet-based subscription and micropayments. (That’s a trend that’s working out well with the “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” franchises, incidentally.)

The revamp manifests itself as “Battlefield Heroes”, designed to be a more accessible gaming environment with a friendlier, cartoony look.

Looking at the sample soldier from the game, pictured here, I have to ask: Is EA also trying to appeal to the gay gamer?

I mean, come on. How else to explain the clam digger combat fatigues? Calves on display don’t exactly say “battle-hardened” to me. Although I’ll grant they seem to be in fashion in other virtual hangouts

The short pants I could dismiss, but the pose this soldier-boy is striking is suspect as well. One hand on the hip, the other… what? Up as a fist of defiance, or raised to eye-level to check the manicure?

All told, I’m thinking the most appropriate soundtrack for this videogame world would, indeed, be a selection of Pansy Division greatest hits. “Dick of Death” seems appropriately aggressive for a war game.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/21/2008 02:30:21 PM
Category: Business, Internet, Pop Culture, Videogames
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If you’re launching a Web startup, it would be prudent to toss a pitch in the direction of Reid Hoffman, co-founder and guiding light of LinkedIn. Because his current jackpot-waiting-to-happen is just the latest in a string of sure bets he’s made in the InterWeb business:

Three of his startup investments have been sold since 2005 for more than $1.1 billion combined, although Hoffman got only a sliver of that. They are the photo-sharing site Flickr, bought by Yahoo Inc.; music network Last.fm, bought by CBS Corp.; and computer security specialist IronPort Systems Inc., bought by Cisco Systems Inc.

Besides Facebook, the list of other promising prospects in Hoffman’s portfolio include blogging software maker Six Apart Ltd., blogging search engine Technorati Inc., online content-ranking site Digg Inc. and another online social networking service, Ning Inc. He also holds stakes in a variety of lesser-known startups, too.

Hoffman’s connections and investments frequently have ties to PayPal, where he accumulated stock as a director and then as a top executive. He first met PayPal’s co-founder and chief executive, Peter Thiel, while both were attending Stanford University in the 1980s.

And everyone’s waiting for a LinkedIn IPO to be like another Google — assuming someone doesn’t offer Hoffman a few trillion dollars or so to sell out first.

Hard to argue with someone who’s business acumen is proven in such giant dollars-and-cents terms. But I remain unswayed by LinkedIn’s prospects, at least in their current form. Personally, the site’s done next to nothing for me: I get no substantial contacts or leads, and every time I try to go more than one menu-level deep into the site, it asks me to cough up a subscription fee. I realize you get more out of this type of service the more you work it, but I haven’t felt compelled to work on it — and this is coming from someone who consults for a living, i.e. keeping and cultivating contacts is how I make money.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/21/2008 12:56:42 PM
Category: Business, Internet
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