One Laptop Per Child

Well some may be laughing, but Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Media Lab people really do seem to be moving this project forward. More power to their elbow!

Taiwan’s Quanta, the world’s largest maker of notebook computers, will manufacture an ultra-low-cost laptop developed by Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

Negroponte, who is also chairman of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit group, has said he expects the laptops to be available to governments next year at a price of $100 each. A prototype of the laptop was unveiled at the recent U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.

Under terms of an agreement with One Laptop Per Child, Quanta will devote engineering resources to develop the $100 notebook design during the first half of the year, according to a statement issued by the group. At the same time, Quanta and the non-profit organization will explore the production of a commercial version of the laptop.

Corporate Alzheimer Threat?

Sun Microsystems really do seem to have an important point here. If there aren’t some common underlying standards then reading todays documents fifty years from now could become just like trying to read Linear B today:

Speaking to a group of reporters, Sun’s top open-source executive said that a format like OpenDocument (ODF) is needed to prevent a permanent condition of what he dubbed “corporate Alzheimer’s.”

“I want to make sure that when my grandchild studies history at university, that they can study source documents,” said Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps. Phipps said that without a standard that remains stable and is widely adopted, documents won’t be able to be opened decades later.

How Reliable is Wikipedia?

Well, pretty damn reliable apparently. Or at least that is the view expressed by the scientific journal Nature who have just carried out the first peer based comparative review of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of their science coverage. Clearly cases like the Seigenthaler one are the exception rather than the rule, and Britannica itself is not without its problems since of the eight “serious errors” reviewers found – including misinterpretations of important concepts – four came from each source, the journal reported. Maybe people should be thanking John Seigenthaler for raising Wikipedia’s profile. Well done Wikipedia.

One of the extraordinary stories of the Internet age is that of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. This radical and rapidly growing publication, which includes close to 4 million entries, is now a much-used resource. But it is also controversial: if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica?

… expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.

Old Bailey database symposium

The Head Heeb: Call for papers

I’m pleased to formally announce a project that Sharon Howard and I have been discussing for some time: the first online symposium on the Old Bailey Session Paper database. The Old Bailey database is, quite simply, the largest primary source collection currently available online, with reports (and often complete transcripts) of more than 100,000 criminal trials from 1674 to 1834. As such, it provides almost unlimited opportunity to use the online medium for original historical work.

Revolting High Rises

Revolting High Rises

Le Corbusier called houses “machines for living.” France’s housing projects, as we now know, became machines for alienation. In theory, the cause of this alienation is some mix of the buildings themselves and the way they’re joined to the city. But in practice, the most effective urban renewal has tended to focus on the buildings. It focuses on the buildings by razing them.

A new history of Europe since 1945.

The New Yorker: The Critics: Books

Still, “Postwar” can fairly be called an interpretation of European history since 1945, and its thesis can be put in a sentence. It is that Europe was able to rebuild itself politically and economically only by forgetting the past, but it was able to define itself morally and culturally only by remembering it. The forgetting was necessary not just because the behavior of most Europeans under Fascism and Nazi occupation was less admirable than anyone wished to acknowledge—but that was, naturally, a big part of it.

Children Of The World Unite!

Or should that be children of the world connect (to each other) using your new – Nicholas Negroponte facilitated – 125 dollar laptop. This initiative to bring cheap and abundant computing and connectivity to the world’s children seems absolutely terrific. Obviously, and at one foul swoop, the global playing field is going to become a lot flatter. If all this works, and gains enough traction to become unstoppable even in those countries who will surely resist, then the biggest digital divide of the future will surely be an age-related one.

The laptop can be powered either with an AC adapter or via a wind-up crank, which is stored in the housing of the laptop where the hinge is located. The laptops will have a 10 to 1 crank rate, so that a child will crank the handle for one minute to get 10 minutes of power and use. When closed, the hinge forms a handle and the AC cord can function as a carrying strap, according to Negroponte. The laptops will be ruggedized and probably made of rubber, he said. They will have four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports, be Wi-Fi- and cell phone enabled and come with 1GB of memory. Each laptop will act as a node in a mesh peer-to-peer ad hoc network, Negroponte said, meaning that if one laptop is directly accessing the Internet, when other machines power on, they can share that single online connection.

The lab will initially target Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand, according to Negroponte, as well as the U.S. state of Massachusetts, which has just committed to equipping every schoolchild with a laptop. Negroponte hopes to start mass production of some 5 million to 15 million laptops for those markets towards the end of 2006. Come December 2007, he estimated production of the laptops at between 100 million and 150 million, three times the number of annual shipments of commercial laptops.