I want the $150 laptop
Saturday, December 2 2006
During the afternoon today I spent a considerable time integrating a set of PHP scripts with a Google Maps API. It was a first stab at superimposing topographic maps from Topozone.com on top of Google Maps. The result places a single patch of semi-transparent topographic map onto a Google Map with a generally-correct alignment (the two maps are of slightly different projections so they tend to diverge a bit at the corners). By changing the numbers of the lat/lon variables in the query string, you can look at topo maps anywhere in the United States. For example: 41 North by 74 West, 32 North by 101 West, and Washington DC. The limitations are several: the topomap is of a different scale than the Google map and, so that places line up correctly, must be scaled using the crude <img size="XXX" > method available in HTML. Secondly, if one scales the Google map with its API zoom controls, all spatial/scale relationships between the topographic overlay and the map beneath break. Finally, only one patch of topo map is overlayed, so if you drag the Google map no additional top map patches appear. Perhaps some or all of these problems can be corrected at some point. It would be great to have a Google Map interface that also supplied topographic information.
The other day there was an article in the New York Times about the "$100 Laptop" being designed by a group of utopians hoping to bring computers to the children of the third world in a project called One Laptop Per Child. The device is fascinating, being all the important things that a laptop should be while (unlike the "Hummer Style" of laptops designed for Americans) not being the things that they shouldn't. The laptops come with WiFi, a web browser, and a word processor. They lack hard drives, using flash memory instead, and partly because of this they use two watts, as opposed to the twenty four that laptops normally require. A side-benefit of their cheap LCD screen technology is that they can be read in full sunlight. Best of all, they can be built for about $150 each (with prices presumed to drop beneath the target of $100 at some point in the near future). But even at twice that price they seem like a good replacement for an overpowered conventional laptop, particularly in situations like long airplane flights where a user might want to do a casual mix of reading and writing without concern for the state of the battery charge. A more expensive version could pack the screen and keyboard into a smaller volume and add provisions for inserting media such as CF cards.
$100 Laptop is not a commercial venture and there are no plans to make the devices available in the developed countries. Of course, the manufacturer would never sell many units in the United States anyway, where people like their laptops big. If I want one of these gizmos I'll have to buy it from a reluctant student next time I'm visiting a developing nation. If you happen to be involved in this effort and can get some units to sell once they enter production, remember me!
Gretchen has been in such a funk since yesterday's verdict in the animal cruelty case that she's required even greater retreat from the trappings of the contemporary world than can be provided by the conventions of a one hour crime drama. She's Tivo'd episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and is watching them as soon as they arrive. I might be a nerd, certainly a bigger one than Gretchen, but I've never understood the geeky attraction of the various incarnations of Star Trek. To me they all seem like overly-serious dramatizations of a five year old's fantasies with his toys in a sandbox.
This evening Gretchen and I visited our friends Penny and David in Marbletown. Also with P&D were another couple who had lost power to their house down near Ellenville, so they'd be spending the night. Gretchen and I had already eaten, so we just sipped wine while the others ate their meal of pork steaks and tofu stir fry. Later I performed the trick where I pull a match from a box and light a candle, using only my bare feet. It turned out that my skills weren't quite as special as we'd all believed. Both Gretchen and Penny proved able to get matches out of boxes with their feet and failed only in striking them.
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