Public domain Soviet maps of the world

During the initial planning and survey phase of the Kuppam project a few years ago, I discovered it was nearly impossible to obtain high resolution topographic maps (or any other sort) for rural India. The government-operated Survey of India has high quality data, but it hasn’t generally made its way into the equivalent of US Geological Survey 15-minute quadrangles on paper or the DTM / DEM data sets. The best I was able to come up with was some old Soviet military maps from the 1950s.

Hadn’t thought about it for a while, but I see someone else has found out about these:

Paul sez, “Soviets mapped the entire world at various scales between 1940 and 1990.In some areas the Russian maps are still the best available maps. Amazingly, none of the maps are copyright.

BoingBoing, Soviet Military Maps of Britain

Site traffic by continent, November 2005

traffic by continents, november 2005
Here’s a chart of this month’s unique site visits by continent, using data from Site Meter. I haven’t kept close watch on this, but I’ve noticed the readership here becoming increasingly far-flung during the past few months. This summer, the North America share was something like 75%, which has now declined to just over 50%.

Most of the overseas traffic originates from places you’d expect: Western Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, India, etc, but I enjoy the randomness of visits from places like Trinidad, Malawi, Zimbabwe, or Ullan Battor.

traffic map november 2005
I see this morning I’m finally getting more than “waiting for data” from Google Analytics, after signing up last Monday. They seem to have been swamped with new users trying out the free service. I’ll let it run for a while and see what sort of information it can turn up as things get settled down over there.

I don’t have a good tool for analyzing data on feed usage. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Ammazon Mechanikal Truk

Ammazon Mechanikal Truk:

Artificial…um…Real Smart Truk

See also: Amazon Mechanical Turk: Putting Humans in the Loop

(via Turk Lurker)

Free 411 service?

At last month’s Mobile Monday, Jack Denenberg from Cingular Wireless commented that 411 calls accounted for a huge chunk of revenue to the US cellular carriers, with Cingular servicing around 1 million 411 calls per day at an average billing cost of between $1.25 to $1.40. All US carriers combined do around 3 million 411 calls per day, which works out to more than $1 billion per year in 411 fees!

They’re going to be really unhappy if these guys get some traction:

A few weeks ago I met Andre Vanier, CEO of 1-800-411-SAVE (my friend Ajay, the guy with the cool geek car, introduced us). I was intrigued by his new business and he’s on the phone with me announcing his new service that turns on tonight at midnight.

We are considerably cheaper, he says. 1-800-411-SAVE is a free call.

His service is using the same database that the carriers use to provide 411 information. This service is using the latest data the big phone companies use (they are forced to share that data with other phone carriers), while many of the Internet-based services are using much older and less complete databases.

What’s the business model? 1-800-411-SAVE pays for the cost of the 411 call. The model is to recover the cost from advertisers. Not just any advertisers but specifically advertisers that fit into the overall concept of “save.”

(via Scoble)

Update 11-16-2005 00:41 PST – The corollary to saving $1.50 for listening to an ad from a sponsor before getting the phone number from 411 is that the customer service lines for banks and credit cards should pay me for listening to their upsell message that gets played before getting to the automated response or being put on hold. At least with the free 411 I get to make a choice…

Free computers for rural (but connected) communities, a Hong Kong-based company, is planning to distribute “iT”:

iT is a compact, ultra-simple, portable desk top computer complete with everything necessary to connect to the Internet, home entertainment devices, printer, USB card reader for reading the memory cards of digital cameras and many other USB peripherals.

It has been developed, designed and manufactured to be distributed free in order to enhance the lives of the millions of people in the world who – for economic reasons – are not connected to the Internet. A way to move them out of the digital underclass.

The device is based on Windows CE, and comes preloaded with IE6.

From the Business Standard:

This device has a conventional keyboard with 14 additional keys, 10 of which will be sponsored by firms that want to tap rural markets, like a firm selling seeds or crop insurance. By pressing the relevant “hot key”, farmers can directly access firms’ websites where product information will guide them to making the right purchase.

A major near term challenge will be the absence of an internet connection in many of the target communities. Asiatotal is explicitly not providing the networking service. This might work in places such as Kuppam, where there is already wireless broadband service, but many other places would have on-demand service only, dial up or perhaps cellular data service, which is rapidly becoming available in many rural markets.

I’m not sure about targeting seed vendors or crop insurance though. Based on my recollection of the Kuppam web traffic logs, they could probably do better with horoscopes, cricket scores, and matrimonial services…

The firm says it intends to distribute 3 million iTs across developing countries like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and those in eastern Europe. It will be shortly rolling out these devices in Brazil.

I hope they make some progress with this. If they’re able to make the business economics and user adoption work with this device, using the 100 dollar computer instead of a Windows CE device should be a piece of cake.

(via ContentSutra and Business Standard)

No car bombs allowed in Beijing

Marc van der Chijs observes some new signage in the Sanlitun diplomatic district in Beijing:

You are not allowed to blow up your car! Not sure if it is a temporary sign (Mr. Bush will visit Beijing this week) or whether it has been here longer already. Or does it mean something else?

There actually has been a warning from the US State Department regarding a threat against 4- and 5-star hotels in China. Hopefully nothing will come of it, though I’m sure there’s more under way than putting up these signs.

(via Asiapundit)

Low cost, portable ultrasound probe for notebook computers

This ultrasound imaging system is designed as a peripheral to a standard notebook computer. The prototype unit has been developed by a group at the Japan National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, working with the Hiroshima Institute of Technology.

The unit can be used in health care or beauty facilities, or even in the home, to visualize the key components of the body (muscles, bones, subcutaneous fat) and give fat and muscle measurements. It is hoped that this technology will help to prevent elderly people from being confined to their beds.

Users connect Ubiquitous Echo to their personal computers and use the included software to collect detailed information about specific parts of the body. The ultrasonic echography equipment traditionally used in medical examinations is prohibitively expensive and too large to be used by health care and beauty facilities or in the home. This new machine is small, lightweight, and inexpensive and can even be put into a bag along with a laptop computer and carried around.

No pricing estimates are stated, but it is likely to be much less expensive than standalone ultrasound systems, in addition to being much more portable.

This might be a good addition to a mobile health unit or a field health center.

A newly created business called Global Health will work to bring it to market.


via Medgadget

Camping out at Singapore Changi Airport

I’ll use this week’s no-GYM theme to go with something completely different:

I’ve travelled between the US and India something like 20 times in the past few years. From the Bay Area, it’s roughly equidistant to go via Europe or via Asia. I often have other stops to make elsewhere in Asia, but one reason I like to go westbound is because of the facilities at the Singapore Changi Airport. (Another reason is that I find the Frankfurt airport vaguely creepy, but that’s another story.)

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I typically fly on United from San Francisco, connecting in either Tokyo or Hong Kong, and arriving in Singapore at midnight. There’s a connecting flight to Bangalore at around 7:30am, which leaves just enough time for a few hours sleep, a workout in the gym, breakfast and e-mail at the business lounge, and picking up any last minute items at one of the many stores.

The Singapore airport has two transit hotels, a swimming pool, and two gyms on the terminal airside, meaning that you don’t have to go through security. This is a bigger win these days than a few years ago. I’ve also gone into town to stay at a “real” hotel, but while I’m on business travel I hardly do more than sleep, run, and wash at any hotel, and it hardly seems worth it.

The Ambassador Transit Hotel is bare bones, but offers much better sleeping conditions than any airplane bed, flat recliner or not. It can be difficult to book a reservation ahead of time, but there are a number of “economy” rooms, which are rarely fully booked, and even when they are, I have been able to get a room within an hour or so of waiting around at the desk. The regular rooms have between 1 and 4 beds, a small desk, television, and bathroom. The economy rooms are smaller, some do not have a television, do not have a separate bathroom, but are adjacent to the gym, where there are a number of shower rooms.

economy room double room

Interestingly, the rooms have indicators pointing to Mecca, for the convenience of their Islamic clientele. There is also a small children’s play area on the ground floor, but I’ve never seen any families at the transit hotel. It usually seems to be business travellers, and people are just trying to sleep. International flights are coming and going around the clock, so the hotel books blocks of six hours at a time, which can be extended by the hour. It’s about US$35 for a room.

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Use of the terminal 1 transit hotel gym, showers, and swimming pool are included in the room charge, but can also be purchased separately. The transit hotel gym has a fairly new Precor treadmill (was finally replaced this spring), a stationary cycle, and a few weight machines, and a rack of dumbbells. The shared gym showers are much nicer than the ones in the rooms. They’re equipped with glass doors and soap dispensers, while the ones in the rooms have just a curtain, with a drain in the floor (so the whole bathroom floor gets wet), and little packets of soap (which are hard to open).

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The swimming pool is on the roof of the building, and is accessible through the Terminal 1 gym. The pool doesn’t open until something like 9am, so I’ve only used it on a couple of occasions when my outgoing flight was delayed.

The Terminal 2 transit hotel doesn’t have a gym, but the separately operated Plaza premium lounge and gym nearby is much nicer than the Terminal 1 gym. The desk can also supply you with exercise clothes, although you still need to bring your own running shoes. Their gym has several nice treadmills, along with a newer weight machine, hand weights, and mats for yoga. They also have showers, nap rooms, oxygen therapy, and a lounge with snacks.

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The view from the treadmill at Terminal 2 is more interesting, as you can watch all the people coming and going at the food court across the concourse. (They are also watching you, of course, while they munch on their noodles and french fries, and wondering at the fact that you were there when they arrived, and still there when they left…) In contrast, the view from the terminal 1 treadmill looks out onto part of the runway.

Terminal 2 is newer in general, and has all the Singapore Airlines gates. United and others are mostly on Terminal 1, which is older, but has been updated somewhat over the past few years.

Singapore is also the best place in the world to be stranded by a missed flight connection. It has cheap and reliable phone service, free wireless networking, and the equivalent of a midsized shopping mall along the concourses. Even without the transit hotels, you could quite easily live in the airport and get a lot of work done for days or weeks, sort of like Tom Hanks in The Passenger, except with credit cards and communications services.

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A number of airlines contract their business lounge service to the SATS premier lounge. This causes some confusion sometimes, as SATS is a unit of Singapore Airlines, but there are two separate (and much nicer) lounges for travellers flying SQ. If you’re on United and have access to an international lounge, you will be able to use the SATS lounge for free. It has a supply of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, chairs, and mostly pretty bad food. I usually bring my own food for travelling, and skip their snacks except for some nuts and chips. There are a couple of PCs for internet access (free), along with a large television and several telephones. I’ve never succeeded in getting the lounge phones to work for me, although I don’t have any trouble with the ones out on the concourse.

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The telecom rates to the US from Singapore on the pay phones are comparable to my US domestic cell phone service. Some of the phones have card stripe readers which accept normal credit cards, such as American Express, Visa, or Mastercard, while others take only cards from local phone companies. A 5 minute call to the US ends up costing around US $3.


Some other notes:

  • There is also a small shower in the bathroom at the SATS lounge. I’ve never used it, as I always shower at the transit hotel. There’s also a new “Rainforest” lounge in Terminal 1, which looks pretty nice, and has showers, massage, aromatherapy, and some treadmills, but I haven’t had occasion to use it.
  • Elsewhere in the airport, there are “quiet areas” where you can sleep, power points for recharging phones and computers, a theater for free movies, many electronics shops (good for buying connectors and cables before heading into India), a cactus garden, a free bus tour of Singapore, and lots of free wireless. Just be sure you’re running a VPN or something.
  • During the SARS crisis, each gate at SIN had a thermal imaging scanner to quickly screen passengers that were running a temperature, which kept incoming traffic moving along. SQ was also distributing kits of information and a disposable thermometer to their passengers. Hopefully we won’t see the return of the process with an avian flu outbreak, but they’ve had practice now.
  • singapore-air-personal-thermometer-kit

  • There are armed patrols of Singapore troops all over the airport. It can be a little surprising to walk off your flight to be greeted by people with submachine guns, especially if they’re juxtaposed with some of the wacky entertainment (singing, dancing, variety) that turns up on the stage in the middle of the concourse bar area.
  • The airport has a tram system running between T1 and T2. It takes around 20-25 minutes to walk at a normal pace, but if you run you can make it in 10, even with hand luggage. I’ve been the last person allowed to make my connecting flight out of Singapore more than once…
  • IMG_2479

More photos

SearchSIG – November 2005

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Quick notes from SearchSIG last night:
This month’s SearchSIG featured John Batelle along with Dan Farber and a panel discussion on vertical search by Gautam Godhwani (SimplyHired), Pete Flint, (Trulia), Adam Beguelin (Truveo), and Tony Gentile, (Healthline). If you look carefully at the photo above, it’s nearly self-documenting, as the web page with the speakers and agenda is projected behind the stage. If only they had sat in order…

Best quote of the evening, from Gautam Godhwani: “I have yet to see Google do applications well”. This in response to a question to all panelists about why Google / Yahoo / Microsoft wouldn’t end up squashing them like bugs at some point. In the background, John Batelle ran a search for “search company ceo” on SimplyHired, which came back with 1020 matches…

Tony Gentile from Healthline had a more defensible reason for existence, in that they’ve built a domain specific taxonomy and onotology for mapping consumer names for health-related topics into the professional medical namespace, and has a quote from Eric Schmidt to the effect that “health and law are two areas that they wouldn’t approach now as they require too much domain knowledge” or something like that. Truveo has a lot of branded content, and claims to do an excellent job of digging out metadata, thus letting you quickly filter for recent gossip, sports highlights and adult content. Trulia works with real estate agents to map their listings onto a Google map, with filters by price, zip code, etc. I have a hard time keeping Truveo and Trulia straight.

A quick show of hands turned up something like 1/3 of the attendees were involved in building a new search engine, most of them not Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft employees. Hmm. This might be correlated with the large number of search company CEOs.

Update 11-12-2005 16:10 PST – more from John Batelle, Dan Farber, Om Malik, plus a pointer to an Information Week article with the quote from Eric Schmidt regarding domain knowledge requirements for law and health search (via Tony Gentile)

Veterans Day 2005

It’s Veterans Day in the United States. When I was a kid growing up in Maine, every little town had a parade or other observance for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and it seemed as though every family had at least one member that had served in the military.

In contrast, here in Palo Alto (and probably elsewhere) today, it’s mostly notable for the schools, post offices, and banks being closed. My daughter’s elementary school had one of the teachers’ spouses come in to talk to the 4th graders about being a submariner in the US Navy, and I suspect it may have been the first time many of the kids had actually met someone who’d been in the service. I think that there are actually more veterans around, but it’s not something that makes for great conversation in many social circles in the Bay Area.

Providing for a national defense is one of the core functions of government. Here in Silicon Valley, sometimes I feel like we’ve effectively “outsourced” it to the “professional military” tribe, who mostly don’t live around here, or at least not in my corner of the tech/business crowd. It can’t be a good thing when the institutions providing that service become so culturally and socially remote, regardless of your opinion on current foreign policy.

Suggested reading:

Pandora is now free

I spent a lot of time digging up new music a couple of months ago during the pre-launch period beta tests of the Pandora music service. I put together a list of interesting music that I found, and ended up purchasing a number of new albums, and put off signing up for their paid subscription service until I finished working through the new music. I thought the fee was OK ($12/quarter or $36/year) but I simply had too much other stuff to listen to, so it would have been wasted money until the backlog cleared a bit (all the CDs I found from listening to Pandora in the first place).

Given my experience (liked the service, liked the music, put off signing up temporarily when the fees started), and the opportunity for affiliate referral fees from Amazon and others, this move to a ad- and affiliate-supported service could end up generating more revenue in the end.

In addition to many new features (bookmarking, station editing, playlist improvements, etc.), Pandora v2.0 includes a free, ad-supported version. Listeners have the choice to subscribe and stay clear of ads, or use the free service, which will gradually incorporate advertising. What does this mean for you? You can now come back and listen to Pandora as much as you’d like for free–and all the stations you’ve created remain intact.

At a referral fee of 6% of sales, it would take around $50 of CD sales to directly replace the old subscription fee. However, many more users who would turn away if even a small payment were required might try using a free service. And Pandora is the sort of service that creates demand for new music that those “free” users might be happy to purchase from Amazon (or iTunes). I don’t know what their conversion rates look like, but if they look anything like my behavior, Pandora is far better off working on bringing in more music-loving users than trying to collect subscription fees.

See also:

Mod_rewrite for moving web content to a new domain

I just wasted 10 minutes getting this to work correctly, so I thought I’d write it down…

Here’s what you need to use mod_rewrite to implement a permanent 301 Moved HTTP response when you move a web site from a subdirectory on one domain to a new top level domain.

(Assuming you’re on a hosted service, and can use .htaccess):

RewriteEngine on
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^olddir/?(.*)$$1  [R=permanent,L]

where the old content was originally in a subdirectory called “olddir” and is getting moved to a new directory on a different server.

This allows you to move the content to a new, separate domain and/or server without breaking your existing links.

link: more on .htaccess and mod_rewrite in the Apache documentation

Better Eavesdropping with Microwaves

Although there’s no working system described in any articles I can find about this, the patent application that goes with this is filed on behalf of NASA, so it might not be total vaporware.

From Audio DesignLine:

At last, you think that you have a secure room for conversations. No windows to bounce laser beams off as a means to eavesdrop. The doors are sealed and air tight. But don’t rest too easy. Now there’s a new way of snooping using Gigahertz waves.

Reflected electromagnetic signals can be used to detect audible sound. Electromagnetic radiation reflected by a vibrating object includes an amplitude modulated component that represents the object’s vibrations. The new audio interception method works by illuminating an object with an RF beam that does not include any amplitude modulation. Reflections of the RF beam include amplitude modulation that provide information about vibrations or movements of the object. Audio information can be extracted from the amplitude modulated information and used to reproduce any sound pressure waves striking the object. Interestingly enough, the object can be something as unlikely as a piece of clothing. Thus, something as intensely personal as your heart beat can be intercepted by reflected RF waves in addition to audio sounds.

More from New Scientist, discussion at Slashdot, Bruce Schneier (see comments)

Mini windmills for powering very small devices

There are many applications for remote sensors and other small electronic devices in remote locations without access to the electrical grid, and where batteries may be unsuitable. A group from the University of Texas, Arlington has built a miniature windmill is 10cm (a little less than 4 inches) in diameter and can provide a power output of 7.5 milliwatts in a breeze of 16 km/hour (10 mph).

The novel aspect of this design is in its use of piezoelectric crystals rather than a conventional generator. Piezo crystals generate a voltage when they are deformed, and are commonly found in cigarette lighters and barbeque ignitions. This piezoelectric windmill brushes a series of cymbal-shaped transducers as it rotates to generate electricity.

A conventional generator that used a 10-centimetre turbine would convert only 1% of the available wind energy directly into electricity. A piezoelectric generator ups that to 18%, which is comparable to the average efficiency of the best large-scale windmills, says Priya.

Details are published in

  • Energy Harvesting Using a Piezoelectric ‘‘Cymbal’’ Transducer in Dynamic Environment,
    Hyeoung Woo Kim, Amit Batra, Shashank Priay, Kenji Uchino, Douglas Markley,
    Robert E. Newnham and Heath F. Hofmann (PDF)
  • Piezoelectric Windmill: A Novel Solution to Remote Sensing Shashank Priya, Chih-Ta Chen, Darren Fye and Jeff Zahnd (PDF)
  • (via Nature)

    Amazing customized Yahoo maps with Flash

    Just when I’d started getting a little bored with Google-based pincushion maps du jour, I come across something surprising built on the new Yahoo Maps API:
    from Justin’s Rich Media Blog:

    With the power of Flash 8, you can customize the Yahoo! Maps on your site to actually blend with the surrounding design of the site or application. Forget about a rectangular maps and default colors of the map tiles. Use ActionScript, or the IDE to add runtime filters to the map tiles themselves.

    The radar “scan” is animated to rotate around, while the pirate map telescope also serves as the zoom level slider.

    I’ve seen so many Google Maps applications in the past few months that the sheer novelty and utility value of new ways to access data and maps has started to wear off. These demos made me stop to take a look simply because they look so much better than what we’ve gotten used to lately, and are likely to precipitate a wave of interesting new ideas.

    I’m ambivalent about requiring Flash as a client technology. It’s really neat, and is deployed on a lot (but not all) browsers. It’s also somewhat opaque, and chews up a lot of system resources. I can usually tell when I’ve landed on a web page with Flash content somewhere because the fan in my T42 usually starts spinning up after a few seconds instead of running dead silent.

    But in the meantime, this made my day.

    (via PhotoMatt)


    Elections are today. I already sent in my absentee ballot, but if you have one and you didn’t mail it already, you probably need to take it to a polling location in person before they close or they won’t count it…

    Mobile Monday – November 2005

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    This topic for this month’s Mobile Monday was “Funding and Investment”, held at the AOL offices in Mountain View.

    Speakers included:

    Quick scribbled notes:
    Keiritsu Forum is an angel investing group, making investments of $250K to $1MM in early stage companies, at premoney valuations of $1.5MM to $10MM. They gather 50-80 applications per month via their website, which invite some teams in for screening by member committees to select which ones will make presentations at their monthly meetings.

    They are not strictly focused on mobile or technology, and their disclosed investments are eclectic. One company they mentioned makes a self-cleaning kitty litter box.

    Vineet from BlueRun Ventures outlined some mobile and communications topics they’re following :

    • Convergence of wireline/wireless (Cellular + VOIP / VoWLAN)
    • Innovative Mobile Services
    • User interface and usability innovations
    • Emerging wide area technology (WiMax, not 802.20)
    • 3G rollout creating new opportunities

    BlueRun is focused on relatively early investments of $2MM to $8MM, while a related fund, Nokia Growth Partners is focused on later stage investments. BlueRun started out as Nokia Venture Partners (but has since taken on additional LPs), giving it a strong global flavor before it became more fashionable. They are early on in their latest fund which just closed a few months ago, and could be a good fit for startup teams working the mobile space.

    Martin Frid-Nielsen (CEO of SoonR) spoke from the entrepreneur’s perspective. Their product is a remote access solution for using your PC desktop from the mobile phone, and they have apparently been featured as a plugin for Google Desktop. Aside from the actual product, I found his talk entertaining for his comments on selecting a country for outsourcing their software development.

    Their company is based in Denmark and the Bay Area, both high cost areas. They decided to outsource to a Eastern European country, and ultimately selected Albania. Martin also commented that Ukraine was actually cheaper, but there were other issues, “like, you have to pay the mafia”.

    David Fradin (President and CEO of MauiGames) gave an overview of their phone-based games. They offer advertisers the ability to place sponsored banners and product placement within their (mostly Hawaii-themed) games, such as golfing, frisbee, and some sort of cycling sport. He seemed to be over-reaching a little when he claimed that their system provided the only method so far that could actually count ad impressions on a mobile phone, perhaps I misunderstood what he was saying.

    They have a proprietary API for their ad service, which allows dynamic insertion of background banners into the game scenery and other displays. Someone in the audience asked why they didn’t drop the game development activity and just become something like “DoubleClick for mobile games” and his response was that the existing mobile game developers were mostly from gaming backgrounds, didn’t really understand the potential revenue value of selling advertising in the games, versus selling the game itself, and that MauiGames needed to continue forward with their model to demonstrate to the other companies how it could work (and thus convince them to sign on to use their advertising platform).

    MauiGames is in Hawaii, although it looks like they’re actually on Kihei, not Maui. Still, a nice place to work. (Updated – AndyF points out that Kihei is on Maui…)

    Monty Python – And Now for Something Completely Different

    Our family has enjoyed Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in the past, so this weekend I thought I’d see how Monty Python went over with our daughter. I think British humor is partially an acquired taste, but the 4th graders around here seem to have a keen appreciation for the absurd, especially if it involves naked people and/or underwear. A bit of animation doesn’t hurt, either.

    And Now For Something Completely Different isn’t really a movie so much as a collection of skits that can be watched (or skipped) separately without missing anything.

    A few notes:

    • The Hungarian Tourist was a big hit. Hopefully we won’t end up with all the kids at school saying “My hovercraft is full of eels”.
    • The Man with a Tape Recorder Up His Nose was completely baffling to my daughter, who has never actually seen a tape recorder. We had to pause the DVD for a sidebar discussion.
    • How Not to Be Seen: “Why is everyone getting blown up?” People randomly getting shot, blown up, or having 16 ton weights dropped on them was vaguely confusing to her. We don’t generally watch a lot of PG-13 movies with her, although we will probably make an exception for the new Harry Potter movie.
    • The Dead Parrot, the Biker Grannies, and the Marriage Counselor all went over well. We had another sidebar discussion on what marriage counselors were and the various sorts of “inappropriateness” that were going on…
    • Cartoon naked people, the dancing Venus on the Half Shell, and men in bikinis all got the kid-stamp-of-approval

    This is probably not a movie for kids of all ages, but might be entertaining for some. I think we’ll try Monty Python and the Holy Grail before too long.

    Notes on the 100 dollar computer for rural education

    Ethan Zuckerman had an opportunity to visit Nicholas Negroponte and got a good look at the mockup of the proposed $100 notebook computer for use in rural and developing education projects. This is a work in progress, but seems to have some substance to it as well.

    While the actual prototype is being actively banged on (in preparation for a live, but tethered, demo at WSIS on November 16th), Negroponte keeps a cardboard mockup of the machine on the conference table in his office. It’s a clever little thing – I had a hard time putting it down after picking it up.

    There often tends to be a focus on the technology aspects of these low-cost “IT-for-the-people” projects, partly because it’s hard, but also because it’s a lot easier to address than the broader social, economic, and policy issues that go with their intended use. I was glad to see some questions about how they thought the overall program was actually going to work in the field:

    Scale is clearly a major part of what will make the laptop succeed or fail – the laptop won’t be produced unless at least five countries sign up at a million laptops each. With an initial production run of 5 to 10 million laptops, the price is likely to be between $130 and $150 per unit, not including any distribution costs, marketing, or any digital content that comes pre-installed on the box. As the project scales up, the $100 per box target comes into sight.

    The laptop is not “for sale” – it’s going to be available for students only, and will be distributed through the same channels that school books and uniforms are. The laptops will be the property of children, not of the school. Colin Maclay, a Berkman colleague who’d joined me for the visit, pointed out that in many countries, school books and uniforms are sold by (highly profitable) local businesses, and that losing a book contract might be a major blow for local employers.

    While Negroponte has some general solutions to the interesting problems around distribution and usage, I got the sense that there hasn’t been as much detailed thinking about the on-the-ground challenges as there has been about the physical and software design of the machine.

    It looks like they’ll end up with some interesting hardware and software before too long, but it’s going to take longer to figure out how to put the concept into practice. Ethan comes away with a generally positive impression about the project, and is looking into collecting comments and suggestions from existing rural development programs as input to Negroponte’s team:

    On the third and fourth fronts of the project – the marketing, distribution and maintenance of these devices and their connection to the Internet, and their use in the classroom – I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions and I think the global community of folks interested in IT in education, especially in IT in the developing world, could assist Negroponte and team with their thinking.

    Specifically, I think it would be great for the OLPC team to have a set of requirements and suggestions for nations participating in the program on how to distribute, link, support and teach with the laptops. It sounds like Negroponte would like to make it a requirement that every student in a classroom has a laptop. Should it be a requirement that schools implementing laptops have internet connectivity? Can this connectivity be used the way it is in the SchoolNet Namibia project, to let schools become ISPs, using revenue to subsidize the net connection and, perhaps, the laptops? Will businesses repair the laptops? Or will students do it informally, or start their own businesses?

    Colin and I are talking about soliciting suggestions on the distribution and use questions surrounding the One Laptop Per Child project and compiling them into an advisory paper for Negroponte and crew. (If you’ve got questions or suggestions, posting them on this blog is a great way to start a discussion…)

    It will be interesting to see whether this gets useful enough to get beyond the concept demo stage. Although I love the vision, it may be possible to do just as much good within a few years with whatever cell phones turn into by then. It’s hard to make a low volume product inexpensive, and high volume production makes ridiculously complicated technology dirt cheap.

    Link: One Laptop Per Child – a preview, and a request for help
    See also: Six Low Cost Computers for Rural ICT, discussion at Slashdot

    Map My Run

    Map My Run is a new Google Maps-based application for plotting and measuring your runs. I just tried plotting one of my usual loops around the Stanford campus and it’s pretty close to what I get with my GPS running watch.

    You can plot routes by clicking points on the map, or upload a GPS tracklog (didn’t try this, though). These sorts of applications are great for estimating your mileage when you don’t actually have a GPS or some way to measure the course. Unfortunately, Google’s map coverage is still somewhat limited outside the US, so it works great for plotting runs around London’s Hyde Park but not so good for loops around the Vidhana Soudha or Cubbon Park in Bangalore, although if you know your way around you can use the satellite view to make a rough guesstimate.

    As an aside, it’s remarkably hard to find a good online map of Bangalore, given the huge number of technology-related business travellers that visit there. Maps of India has a reasonable city overview, but if you want street-level detail, try this one from Superseva (only seems to work on Internet Explorer). It’s an interactive scanned image of a paper map(!).

    See also: Gmaps Pedometer, Favorite Run, Walk Jog Run, Motion Based

    via Google Maps Mania

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