Cool little laptop – the OLPC Australia TechFest

I played with the XO (a.k.a. $100 laptop) at the OLPC Australia TechFest.

The XO is a very cool machine. Looks perfect for kids, regardless of whether they’ve used a computer before. I’d heard about it before, and tinkered for a few minutes in the past. But actually trying out the latest laptops, seeing the quality of the machine and the video display, and using the various programs for art, music and and science, it was something else. The way the Sugar interface works is ideal for exploratory learning, and the way the the mesh network together with Sugar facilitates group activities is really impressive.

Chatting to the OLPC people about the Windows controversy was encouraging too, to get the inside story rather than just media reports. The clear message I’ve heard is that they are definitely supporting open source, whatever public speculation is happening, and whatever else people want to do with the machines.

One thing said during the day made me laugh:

Senator Kate Lundy took an XO to a Labor Party meeting. (Prime Minister) Kevin Rudd liked it. We know, because the XO took a photograph of his smile.

(Sounds like the first wave of an alien invasion, reporting back to headquarters.)

Sarah Maddox has more.

At Appropedia we’re thinking about how we support the OLPC with free content, and about the Summer of Content, which is still a possibility for this year with a bit of work in the text 2 weeks. More on that shortly. Edit: This didn’t eventuate this time around, unfortunately – too much to do and we didn’t have the people to carry it all the way. But it’s looking definite for the Southern Summer (December 08 – February 09) in conjunction with OLPC Australia, their partners, and whoever else wants to support the work.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Too much skepticism of the skeptic

Note: Blog posts are the opinions of the individual blogger, and not necessarily of the Appropedia Foundation or the Appropedia community. (We may decide to put a note like this on all blog posts, but it seemed particularly important for a topic like Bjørn Lomborg.)

Reading Bjørn Lomborg’s ideas, I’m learning* that he’s not a climate skeptic, and many of his ideas are sound. Things are getting better for most people in the world (even if it still sucks for many), water wars aren’t as likely as some make out (it’s usually cheaper to build desalination plants – not great, but better than war), most pollutants decrease as societies become prosperous, pesticides in our diet are not a major cause of cancer (compared to coffee and alcohol), and of course, that we should do cost-benefit analyses for solutions to our problems. And as for his image as a climate skeptic, even in The Skeptical Environmentalist he acknowledged the reality of climate change – though he questions the best response.

In this light it looks like an important contribution to the debate – if only the debate hadn’t been conducted at an emotive rather than factual level.

That said, I still have major problems with some of his arguments, and a central plank of his arguments, prioritization, is summed up in these quotes by his critics (from the Wikipedia article):

Lomborg specialises in presenting the reader with false choices – such as the assertion that money not spent on preventing climate change could be spent on bringing clean water to the developing world, thereby saving more lives per dollar of expenditure. Of course, in the real world, these are not the kind of choices we are faced with. Why not take the $60 billion from George Bush’s stupid Son of Star Wars program and use that cash to save lives in Ethiopia? — from a pie thrower.

and:

As Lomborg notes, “We will never have enough money,” and therefore, “Prioritization is absolutely essential.” Why, then, does he weigh the environment only against hospitals and childcare, rather than against, say, industry subsidies and defense spending? — Grist Magazine

I also have never seen much attention to the technological impact of carbon pricing, and it seems like Lomborg is no different. By sending a price signal now, we encourage money and effort to be spent on solutions that could turn the climate change challenge around. E.g. What happens when solar becomes cheaper than coal, and energy storage becomes affordable? A massive transition to a post-carbon economy will begin, that will make most of the models irrelevant. (To be fair he does conclude that there should be investment in renewable energy technologies, but I don’t think he discusses the market-based approach.)

There’s also the fact that many measures to stop global warming, especially efficiency measures, are an economic benefit, not a cost at all.

Of course, I’ve been wrong on Lomborg before, and I may still be.

But how do we reach a more intelligent level of debate? We can’t wait for the mass media – that’s not their field. I’d like to see Lomborg release his work under a free license, so we could remix it, expand and assess arguments, and plug holes, making the comparisons that he himself missed.

*Okay, a friend has been defending Lomorg to me for ages, but I never quite believed him.

Originally posted, by the same author, at Pablo Garuda.

Open social networking and wikis

“If you want to find out what tools your staff are finding most useful at the moment, just go and see what your IT department is blocking.” – Quoted in CIO magazine on Enterprise 2.0

A lot of Web 2.0 is time-wasting in my view, but it’s clearly meeting people’s needs or wants. (Though I suspect it’s also triggering some deep-seated addictive behavior, the way television hooks us by triggering our orienting response.)

My prediction: The next generation of social networking tools will be much less intrusive, more integrated into our web experience, and enable us to find people we want to connect with, and stay connected. That well be good for our social lives, good for whatever projects we’re involved in – and it will be good for business,

What about wikis? So far there are not a lot of shiny social networking tools for wikis. There’s the wiki itself of course, people interacting on talk pages and user pages in the process of building a resource. But in terms of additional tools, the best examples I’ve seen are at Wikia, starting with their gaming and entertainment sites such as Halopedia. The use of structured pages such as a Social Profile (automatically linked from the user page) has a lot of potential. Kudos to Wikia for open-sourcing the code.

There are other tools for building better connections within a wiki: a window into a community conversation is possible on standard MediaWiki, and the newest pages feeds on the Appropedia homepage are possible with an extension; I’d also like to see new ways of aggregating discussions, so I see on a single page the discussions I’m following.

But the developments I’m looking forward to are those freeing us from having to visit a specific site. Being able to add our maps, twitter feeds, blog feeds and custom searches to the site or sites of our choice gives us much more freedom. We already can do all of those things at Appropedia now, thanks in large part to work done on Wiki Widgets at Hexten. I suspect there’s much more on the way, like a bookshelf that I can share between my profiles on different sites, with my reviews.

But when there’s a vampire application, a la Facebook, I’ll let it pass.

This post originally appeared at Pablo Garuda