There are some nice videos on YouTube of the interface of the XO, a sub-$100 laptop from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. They have given priority to collaborative features and it has a built-in camera and microphone.

I wonder why they don’t have image avatars — perhaps that’s a privacy feature to protect children, but I think would be neat if there could be image representations of people.

I enjoyed reading Jeff Atwood observations on the “Sugar Interface” which is one of the few UIs I’ve seen (outside of gaming) that strives to go beyond the traditional windowing metaphor that grew to prominence in the 90s. He writes:

“I have to admit that I didn’t find the Sugar UI particularly intuitive or discoverable, even after using it for 10 minutes and learning the basics. But I’m not a child. Maybe something unusual is necessary to get kids’ creative juices flowing. Mr. Negroponte has strong feelings on this topic:

“‘In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.’

“He’s got a point. I don’t know many kids that want to grow up to be ‘Information Workers’.

It was awesome seeing this machine in action (see videos below). We saw it crank out the results of a polynomial equation. This particular machine was the second one built by the London Science Museum 153 years after it was designed! Apparently there was some debate as to whether it could have been built using the methods and materials available in the 1800s and if it was built whether it would work. They stayed true to what was possible in that age and proved that it was possible and, in fact, works as Charles Babbage originally intended.

Nathan Myhrvold funded the completion of the first on the condition that they build a second one for him to keep. After spending a year at the Computer History Museum in Mountainview, CA it will be moved to Nathan’s living room. Now that’s cool.

the engine in action (rear-view)…


Another video shows more parts of the engine at work.

I’m headed down to Mountain View today to see Difference Engine No. 2 in action at the Computer History Museum (via SF Chronicle). The first machine was built in 2002, over 150 years after it was designed. The machine on display at the museum is the second one built. It has 8,000 parts and weighs 5 tons. It will be demonstrated at 1pm and 2pm today. We’re going to try to catch the early showing.

The Computer Museum website also has some nice biographies of various contemporaries of Charles Babbage, including both collaborators and critics. Ada Lovelace often referred to as the first programmer, collaborated with Babbage. Unusual for a woman in the Victorian era, she was educated in mathematics, as was her mother, Lady Byron.