Archive for February, 2008

£99 laptop could hatch the Linux generation

February 29, 2008

PC manufacturer Elonex is launching ONE, an ultra-portable laptop, at this week’s Education Show at the NEC. The machine provides a 7″ LCD screen, wireless Internet access and 1GB on-board solid state memory (there is no hard disc to save on costs). It runs Linux with what looks like OpenOffice for word processing and is being aimed at the education market. It costs just £99.

This product launch follows hot on the heels of growing interest in the ASUS Eee PC which is slightly more costly at around £200 but also runs Linux. If these low-cost products take off in the early-years education market then we could see a new generation of young adults who have been weaned on open source and Linux.

This might be considered another brick in the wall to mainstream PC manufacturers and Microsoft for two reasons.

Firstly, as my old college chum Martin Waller pointed out to me, this new generation of Linux/OpenOffice aficionados would naturally want to transfer their skills and technologies into the workplace. This worked for a now forgotten computer company called DEC (aka Digital Equipment) in the 1970s. A generation of engineering and computer science graduates entered the workplace after having used the company’s PDP/11 machine in their college years and started demanding to have access to similar, easy-to-use, mini-computers at work. This process helped speed the demise of the centralised mainframe computer.

Secondly, for Microsoft to have any hope of being incorporated in to these kinds of super-cheap, commodity products then they will have to drop the licence fee for Windows and Office. This is further reinforced in the education world by the UK’s school technology advice agency’s (BECTA) recent reservations about Microsoft’s Office 2007 software, and public exhortations for schools to make more use of free-to-use products.

The Jesuits are supposed to have said: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. This early adoption technique may be about to take off in the world of operating systems.

A lemony lunch

February 26, 2008

As the blog’s been a bit tech-heavy recently I thought I’d take this opportunity to mention the lunch I ate at a workshop I was at the other day. I enjoyed a compote of roasted veg with mustard mashed potato together with various fancy breads (olive, tomato, pepper). Whilst I’m not so sure about this obsession with roasted vegetables as the only vegetarian option, I have to give full marks to London’s Barbican Centre caterers for the desert that followed this:

Lemon curd sponge pudding with orange custard and crystallised orange slice.

I gave it it’s own line so you could savour it as I did. Yummy…

The T-Generation: can techno-cathedral builders save the planet?

February 21, 2008

Forget the Google generation of today’s teenage social networkers and YouTubers – the future really belongs to the cathedral builders of the recently born Transition Generation. According to Professor James Martin, a futurologist from the University of Oxford, the planet’s future rests on their young shoulders.

Speaking at the British Computer Society’s annual Turing lecture on Tuesday evening, Martin outlined his view of the large-scale problems facing the world in the 21st century and the potential technological solutions. A jammed pack audience heard how the T-Generation will have to be prepared to undertake a series of enormous social, economic and technological changes in order to develop a society which practices what Martin calls ‘eco-affluence’ i.e. one in which people enjoy a good standard of living and a worthwhile life without damaging the environment. This will involve them in enormous projects, many of which, like the church builders of the medieval age, will often take more than one person’s lifetime. They will be digital and eco-technological cathedral builders.

The talk was preceded by the first showing of a film that Martin is the process of making called ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’. This proved to be a devastating, and deeply green, analysis of the world’s problems along the lines of Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’. The film includes a chilling interview with James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory of earth ecology, who argues that the rapidly melting arctic ice shows we have reached the “point of no return” with regard to climate change. Lovelock calculates that, as far as food production is concerned, the carrying capacity of the planet will be reduced to around 500 million humans by end of the century. There are currently more than 6 billion of us.

What are the solutions? This is where I thought things started to go a little awry. There was a long list of what are rapidly becoming the usual suspects: light-weight hydrogen powered cars, solar and wind energy, hydroponics, fusion power, synthetic biology, genetically engineered crops and astonishing new developments in computer technology and data bandwidth.

Although many of these solutions are interesting and promising I thought there was something missing in his analysis. Old fashioned and deeply human things like personal greed, the brittleness of economic systems, general ignorance, vested interests and political weakness are all getting in the way.

And there in lies the true problem. We may have the scientific knowledge and the technology to move to a society based on eco-affluence, but are we capable of making the human investment? After seeing his film one is left deeply wishing the T-Gen all the luck in the world.

Procuring open source software

February 18, 2008

How do you procure something that is free? It might sound like an undergraduate philosopher’s late night joke, but it is a serious issue when it comes to the ‘purchasing’ of open source software. The source code is usually freely available as a download and there is nothing to pay for the licence to use it. However, this actually causes problems for established procurement processes, which are built around vendor sales teams, requests for proposals, tendering documents, quotations and such like.

I’ll be helping to solve this problem on 18th of March, at a conference held by Oxford University’s Open Source Software Advisory Service. I’m hoping they’ll have worked out how to procure a good lunch.

Life laundry your desktop

February 13, 2008

Last week I highlighted the BumpTop computer interface with its design principle that a messy virtual desktop actually contains a lot of very useful implicit information.

The exact opposite of this approach is to make use of what is being called Zenware – software that helps keep the desktop clear and uncluttered. These little applications perform various tactical tasks in the background to try and keep the number of menus, sidebars, pop-ups etc. from distracting you. There’s a nice piece on this kind of virtual life laundry in Slate.

Why Apple still hasn’t given me what I want

February 5, 2008

Air, the new, super-skinny, size zero girl on the Apple catwalk is certainly impressive⎯lightweight and razor thin. And, judging from the coverage, it certainly looks as though it got the horde of press at the MacWorld conference into a breathless state. Frankly, it being Valentine’s month and all, I’d love to fall in love, but…

I just can’t. It’s just not what I had in mind when there was lots of talk at the end of last year about Apple’s new ultra-portable. What I was dreaming of was something small, rather than thin. A gadget you can slip into a small bag or even a large pocket. I’m not bothered about having a truly full-size keyboard, built-in Web cam or a dazzling 13.3-inch LED screen. I just want something truly portable.

I suppose, if I’m being honest, I never got over being ditched by Psion.

Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

February 1, 2008

Quite a while ago I blogged about vegetarian scotch eggs. And you wouldn’t believe the number of would-be vegetarian scotch egg eaters that now land on this site.

So, to further egg on these ovaphiles I have a tip to share from my Christmas hamper. The Handmade Scotch Egg Company does exactly what they say, will deliver to your door and make several veggie versions. I tried a few of their products over the Christmas holiday and they are lovely.

Their selection of over thirty different types includes Worcester (where the egg is coated in a mixture which includes local cheeses, parsley and Worcester sauce) and the truly excellent Beanie (red kidney beans, brazil nuts and garlic). For the meat eaters there are classics like Old Malvernian (made with Gloucester old spot pork) and Valentino (saddleback pork stuffed with Wensleydale cheese and cranberries).

The only criticism I have is that the delivered eggs come surrounded by an ice pack and a great deal of packaging. Although I’m sure this is all necessary in order to keep them fresh during the journey it does seem a bit un-green, so I’m reserving these for the occasional luxury treat. However, the company is based in rural Herefordshire⎯a place I know quite well, and where I can assure you the air is particularly clear and the chickens run free.