It’s not a product, but let’s attack it anyway

More news this week on the MIT Media Lab effort to build a $100 laptop. Nicholas Negroponte announced agreements with several governments and technology companies.

Mr. Negroponte said that he had a commitment from Quanta Computer of Taiwan to manufacture the portable computers, which would initially use a processing chip from AMD. He also said he had raised $20 million to pay for engineering and was close to a final commitment of $700 million from seven nations — Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria, India, China, Brazil and Argentina — to purchase seven million of the laptops.

Microsoft, apparently worried about the prospect of tens of millions of PCs around the world running Linux, is trying to derail the effort. They’re advocating smart cellphones, adding a keyboard for input and a TV as a display. It’s not clear whether this is a serious proposal, or just throwing sand in the gears.

“Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.

The M.I.T. Media Lab had experimented with the idea of a cellphone that would project a computer display onto a wall and also project the image of a keyboard, sensing the motion of fingers over it. But the researchers decided the idea was less practical than a laptop.

[Some specialists] have raised questions about […] the price of Internet connectivity, which can cost $24 to $50 a month in developing nations. But Mr. Negroponte said networking costs would not be an obstacle because the laptops would be made to connect automatically in a so-called mesh network, making it possible for up to 1,000 computers to wirelessly share just one or two land-based Internet connections.

Putting down Aibo

It’s a sad day for Sony Aibo owners. Sony announced last week that it will stop making the plucky little robot dogs. The Aibo, which costs $2,000, is being eliminated along with several other unprofitable Sony products.

The announcement has elicited shock and consternation from the dozens of Aibo owners living in their parents’ basements around the country.

Bruce Binder, an electromechanical engineer from Rancho Cordoba, Calif., has spent about $90,000 to acquire 56 Aibos. “I’m disappointed, but it’s not a shock,” Mr. Binder said. “I think Sony’s making a mistake.”

“I love them, they’re great,” said Craig Lee, a technical support specialist at a Chicago insurance company, who owns 40 Aibos. “I think of them as dogs.”

I know it’s tough, boys, but I feel your pain. Several years ago, Silverlit stopped making the ICybie robotic dog. That mongrel was never even as popular as the Aibo.

And I own three ICybies.

Taking decisive action against spyware

Harvard Law School and Oxford University are announcing a new effort to eliminate spyware and adware.

A top priority will be the development of a database of testimony from consumers on their experiences with malicious software, which they will be able to submit at the project’s Web site, The site will also publicize the names of companies and the methods they use to get marketing and tracking software onto consumers’ machines.

Yeah, that will stop them. And I’m sure nobody will flood the website with bogus entries. What’s next, a letter writing campaign?

Oh, but we can always dream, can’t we?

Pity the folks at Alliance Française. These days more people are signing up for Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic language classes, while French slips in popularity. But the president of L’Alliance in New York is putting a brave face on the situation.

“French is here to stay,” [she says,] citing the city’s hard-core cadre of Francophiles and the usefulness of French for commerce, scholarship, the arts and, yes, cuisine.
“You cannot have a vision of the world without the story of French culture,” she said.

Little Big Man

Little Big Man

In September, as the result of a typo in a spreadsheet, Electronic Arts issues an update to Madden NFL 06 that reduces 6-foot-3, 305-pound New York Jets lineman Michael King to a height of 7 inches. The next day, EA fixes the bug — to a chorus of complaints from customers who enjoyed watching the shin-high blocker get steamrollered by full-size players such as seven-time All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Retouching Politburo photos

I am shocked, shocked to hear that polititians are rewriting on-line information to make themselves look better. The Transcript reports that congressional House staffers made more than 1,000 changes to entries in Wikipedia the cooperative on-line encyclopedia.

In November and December, the Transcript has learned, users of the House address were temporarily blocked from changing content because of vandalism, violations described by the site as a “deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of the encyclopedia.”

Suppressing inconvenient science

Science is an unforgiving business. The scientific method depends on testing and evaluating theories, promoting ones that have merit, and eliminating those that do not fit the facts.

Polititians, on the other hand, are not interested in re-evaluating their public positions. And in the Bush administration, which has a history of hostility to science, theories that do agree with the party position are suppressed or openly attacked.

So it should come as no surprise that a leading climate expert claims that NASA Tried to Silence Him.

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

After [a] speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, [NASA officials warned] Dr. Hansen that there would be “dire consequences” if such statements continued…

Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. […] He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all NASA personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Of course, the government can declare anything as a “policy statement”. Next will they tell scientists not to promote alternative energy sources? Or discuss contraceptives? Not to advocate teaching evolution in schools? Is that “policy”?

Meanwhile, the administration continues to emphasize public relations over truth:

George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen […]

Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. “the most liberal” media outlet in the country. […] Mr. Deutsch said his job was “to make the president look good” and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch’s priority.

Correctness in the workplace

I was in the lunch room at work as people filed in for their morning caffeine. One woman who manages a project looked up as a team member walked in. “Ah, good. My slave is here”, she said, before starting a technical discussion.

Later I asked him if he found that label insulting. He shrugged, “At least she’s not calling me her bitch any more”.

Intel abandons x86 hardware support in Itanium

Intel scraps once-crucial Itanium feature

Anyone wishing to run programs for x86 chips on Montecito must use Intel emulation software called IA-32 Execution Layer, or IA-32 EL, that was first released in 2004.

“IA-32 EL provides much better performance and flexibility for 32-bit applications on Itanium,” spokeswoman Erica Fields said of the choice. “With Montecito, we took back the silicon area that was being used up by the x86 hardware support.”