NECC: Day Two

In a stack of papers called Technology.

  • Jul
  • 06
  • 2006

Starbucks count: 9, with 4 of them inside the convention center and 3 of them on the same floor. This convention center is a big place, but gimme a break.

We had dinner at Royal Thai last night. I grabbed my usual coffee drink (double Americano) and an almond croissant from St. Tropez. Both are close to the convention center and serve good food. Make your way over if you’re here at NECC and reading this. It’s always tough to find safe bets for eats in another city. Got any suggestions for me? You know what to do.

It’s about 10:00 and I plan to spend the next hour at a few poster sessions and student showcases, all held in a big hall that allows for dropping in on any number of informal presentations. A presentation this afternoon about video iPods holds promise, but I can’t seem to find it listed in the paper schedule of sessions and just hope it didn’t get cancelled.

$100 Laptop

Nicholas Negroponte spoke this morning at a keynote. His highly controversial non-profit One Laptop per Child is something I hadn’t decided on yet, but his speech pushed me.

Bill Gates and Intel are against this project, but that’s no surprise. The realization of this project means that the world is flooded with laptops that run rival software (some version of Linux) and use rival hardware (AMD processors). This changes the market for those 2 companies dramatically; we’re talking about 1 billion computers liberated from Microsoft shackles and reveling in the world of AMD. Negroponte mentioned that Adobe has come out against this, too. Again, not a surprise since Adobe is chief among the software companies that contribute to bloated programs that wouldn’t do well and certainly wouldn’t be preloaded on these computers. Negroponte used PDFs as his example and it’s something I’ve noticed: opening a PDF now takes so much more time than it did a year ago. Shouldn’t these things become quicker instead of slower?

There are lots of good things about the project and only a few potentially bad things (chief among them is the lack of support for the computers, so a community with computers that it doesn’t know how to troubleshoot is a community with large paperweights if anything goes wrong). Even those potentially bad things are simply that, potentially bad though not necessarily. They are certainly not things that should keep the project from going forward.

Negroponte has really thought this thing out and is working hard to make it happen. As I’ve pointed out before, passion is contagious. That passion is part of what made the speech an interesting one to listen to. Add to it the fact that this project represents a revolution across the globe, you quickly realize that you are listening to an idea that will change the world.

“Technology isn’t about teaching; technology is about learning.” Negroponte makes a good point and to listen to someone who is thinking on such a large scale about changing the world is exciting.

Initially, the $100 laptop won’t be. It’ll be closer to $140 due to fluctuating costs of raw materials. The target is to bring the cost to $100 by the end of 2008 and to bring it to $50 by the end of 2010.

No Caps Lock

Noticeably missing from the $100 laptop will be the caps lock key. Negroponte really seeks to streamline this computer, leaving only the essentials in place. I never thought of it before he mentioned it and I applauded, but I have never had need for caps lock. Holding down the shift key works just fine, thank you very much. I wonder how much money that shaves off the final cost.

As a final though, I use Word to spell check all of these entries (yes, I know about that new WordPress spell check plugin, I just haven’t installed it yet). In the bottom right corner of the screen dances a personified computer with legs, though yours might possibly be a cute kitty cat or a creepy paper clip with eyes. That computer asks me useful questions, such as, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? I have a much better way of writing a letter.” But I’m not writing a letter, I think to myself. “Oh! Oh! Pick me! Pick me! I can tell you wonderfully distracting and ultimately time-consuming ways of doing something utterly different than what you actually want to do!” the graphic says. And when I tell it to go away, instead of immediately disappearing, it actually waves to me first. When I select “Hide assistant,” I want that thing gone, as in right fickin’ now. And the next time that I launch the spell check, that damn assistant is back, waving and dancing, happy as the day is long.

How many of my system resources are making that useless image move when they should be going toward making my computer work faster? Would we all be much better off with a computer like the one Negroponte describes, one that is free of clutter, free of feature bloat, free of needless and distracting processing? Can we shoot the Microsoft developer who first came up with the idea of the Microsoft Office Assistant? Can we at least rest assured that this person has since been fired?


1. Laurie says:

[7/6/2006 - 3:34 pm]

I am with you on the unnecessary gimmicks that proliferate programs. I am just a little jaded as are you my friend. However, these very gimmicks are needed to hold the hand of many neophytes who are not savvy navigators. While I realize that the computers are for learning and therefore for students. I wonder about those less than tech friendly teachers among us. If every kid were to have a laptop, how much time would we spend answering, “Ms. Weck, how do I format a letter, paper, outline, project, etc.?” Maybe the little dancing guy and his cohorts are okay to have around. I just worry about being stuck with a sea of laptops and a tech guy like you know who to keep them floating. Did Negroponte address that concern? And nobody needs a caps lock unless they are yelling in an IM.

On a personal note..
Glad you’re back from Japan…hike next week?

2. Todd says:

[7/6/2006 - 4:22 pm]

Do you have a program that has little flashy, animated things that keep kids from asking you those questions? I sure as hell don’t. The extra features don’t make things easier, they just make them seem worth the price tag. Instead of simply releasing a cheaper version of OS 10.4, Apple will release 10.5 at a higher price, and then 10.5.1, 10.5.6, 10.6, etc. The price of these pieces of software only increases and it’s all the feature bloat that justifies it. Things don’t get more streamlined that way.

The idea of tech support is a problem. He didn’t address it, instead suggesting that the computer must make use of software that doesn’t require much support, things that are more stable. He also suggested that feature bloat is a big part of what makes computers crash and he’s right. People don’t need those flashes of animation and such to make their jobs easier. Does the fact that the bottom toolbar in OS 10 hides and that icons grow bigger as you roll over them make things easier for you? No. Someone who didn’t have that animation option turned on would just as easily switch applications, but all that processor power required to make those animations possible makes the computer slower.

I’ve got to trust that he has good people working on making this happen, though it sounds crazy that a computer would run for even as long as a month in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it. Still, it’s not as if he hasn’t actually made this happen in the past. I think a school he started in Cambodia was the first to receive these computers and they are working there, in India, Egypt, Thailand, and lots of other places.

Hike, yeah. I’ll be back next week.