mm267: XO: A missionary position

January 27, 2008


MUDGE’S Musings


Interest continues in the One Laptop Per Child initiative. As faithful reader recalls, this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s interest in the subject continues, also. Here’s where we’ve been:

One Laptop Per Child @ L-HC

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks
mm232: Li’l green laptops a hit in Peru
mm247: OLPC — reviews are coming in
mm249: OLPC – News, and a review

Read the rest of this entry »

mm262: Making the world better, one wall wart at a time

January 22, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s back! SASB©. Three recent looks at technology in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Wall wart? That’s the affectionate term for those transformers that power so many of today’s electronics. And even if we turn off the computer or the printer that’s plugged into one, if we leave the transformer in the wall, it’s drawing power and wasting energy.

But there are people out there with a better mousetrap – er, wall wart.

“We’re talking about the exact same principle as replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones,” he said from Phoenix. “If our products were built into all consumer electronics — computers, flat-screen TVs, cellphones — we could save 800 million pounds of carbon emissions.”

Turns out that while we’ve been wringing our hands over greenhouse gases and energy wastefulness, technology has been pecking away at the issues.

In spite of ourselves, carbon emissions have only grown at half the speed of the growth of the world’s economy.

Now it’s a matter of having the will (and the capital) to apply the technology and start banking the benefits.


A Big Drop In Emissions Is Possible With Today’s Technology

By Doug Struck | Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008; Page A06

… Technological societies are constantly striving to create ways of doing things more efficiently. Advances in efficiency in the past 30 years have led carbon emissions to grow only half as fast as the world’s economy, according to Robert Socolow, a Princeton University engineer. But those savings have been offset by the rise in population and consumption.

From personal observation, we know the truth of the following:

On a broader scale, the mundane trappings of our modern life are becoming more efficient. Household appliances, including the thirstiest of them, furnaces and air-conditioners, have steadily diminished their energy consumption in the past three decades. Today’s new kitchen refrigerators, for example, use 70 percent less power than those made in the 1970s.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Big Drop In Emissions Is Possible With Today’s Technology –

Compact fluorescent bulbs, which as it happens, are an interim technology (and I don’t know why this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© didn’t give Philips Electronics LED lighting a story of its own!), are gradually replacing every conventional light bulb casa MUDGE, and in households nationwide. What did it take?

The government didn’t have to legislate for more efficient lighting – the marketplace did that.

Engineering the means to fit a fluorescent into the ubiquitous, decades-old incandescent bulb socket. Once over that hurdle, it was just a question of time, and Wal-Mart.

One would expect the same pattern to repeat where those dramatically improved efficient wall warts are concerned.

Creating efficient automobiles may require a more activist intervention – way overdue. But even for our personal transportation, the technology to improve efficiency and emissions may be close at hand.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Maintaining for the moment our focus on bright electronics, we consider rear-projection televisions, powered by digital light processors (DLP).


Betting on a Bright Future for Rear-Projection TVs

By ERIC A. TAUB | Published: January 21, 2008

PLANO, Tex. — Back in the early years of this decade, when plasma high-definition televisions cost $10,000, consumers found that buying a rear-projection TV was a more affordable way to jump into the digital era.

But with prices plummeting for liquid-crystal display and plasma TVs, the rear-projection market is quickly drying up. Sony and Philips got out of that business last month.

“The market is moving rapidly to L.C.D.,” said Todd Richardson, vice president for marketing of connected displays for Philips Consumer Lifestyle North America, a division of Royal Philips Electronics.

But Texas Instruments, the chip maker that developed the digital light processor most commonly found in most rear-projection TVs, is holding the line. It isn’t going to be easy.

Rear-projection TVs are getting thinner and brighter (just the opposite of yr (justifiably) humble svt, sorry to admit), and Texas Instruments is working on gamer friendly gimmicks like 3D to sweeten the pie.

Digital light processor technology uses up to two million microscopic tilting mirrors, all housed on a single chip, that direct light to the screen.

The technology, which was invented in 1987 by Larry Hornbeck, a T.I. engineer, has inherent advantages. Its TV sets weigh less than equivalent-size plasma displays. The sets can be frameless, increasing the size of the display that can fit into a given space. And D.L.P. sets consume less energy than plasma displays, an increasingly important factor as consumers opt for very large sets.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Betting on a Bright Future for Rear-Projection TVs – New York Times

On a related note, anyone else find those Texas Instrument DLP advertisements with that little girl (“it’s the mirrors”) just the slightest bit annoying, if not creepy?

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Our third technological exploration takes us to the wonderful world of Tim Harford, the “underground economist” whose columns are found in Slate and, in this case, Wired.


How Email Brings You Closer to the Guy in the Next Cubicle

By Tim Harford | 01.18.08 | 6:00 PM

As a columnist (which is fancy for “journalist in jammies”), …

Savor that one… “journalist in jammies.” What we commentary bloggers aspire to, I suppose.

… I ought to personify the conventional wisdom that distance is dead: All I need to get my work done is a place to perch and a Wi-Fi signal. But if that’s true, why do I still live in London, the second-most expensive city in the world?

If distance really didn’t matter, rents in places like London, New York, Bangalore, and Shanghai would be converging with those in Hitchcock County, Nebraska (population 2,926 and falling). Yet, as far as we can tell through the noise of the real estate bust, they aren’t. Wharton real estate professor Joseph Gyourko talks instead of “superstar cities,” which have become the equivalent of luxury goods — highly coveted and ultra-expensive. If geography has died, nobody bothered to tell Hitchcock County.

Harford brings to light an astonishing paradox of our modern electronic collaborating world.

But I think the truth is more profound than either of those glib explanations: Technology makes it more fun and more profitable to live and work close to the people who matter most to your life and work. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, an expert on city economies, argues that communications technology and face-to-face interactions are complements like salt and pepper, rather than substitutes like butter and margarine. Paradoxically, your cell phone, email, and Facebook networks are making it more attractive to meet people in the flesh.

Go figure.

He points out that, even as electronic communications have grown by orders of magnitude, air travel keeps growing (despite the Transportation Security Administration’s best efforts to persuade us to stay home and nest!).


[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

How Email Brings You Closer to the Guy in the Next Cubicle

What a fascinating duality: electronic communications enhancing face to face communications.

No wonder the web conferencing technology I support and evangelize for has grown, while our corporate travel expense has grown even more. Thanks, Mr. Harford, for enlightening us!

And that’s SASB© for today. Email your friends all about it, then discuss it with them over coffee.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Share this post : it! digg it! reddit! technorati! yahoo!

mm251: Stem cells – Lab harvests from embryos non-destructively

January 12, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Stem cell research is simultaneously a neocon hot button, and one of medical science’s most promising magic bullets.

As a prototypical aging Baby Boomer, yr (justifiably) humble svt has made stem cell research a frequent topic in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©:

Stem Cell Research: Support it now!

mm251: Stem cells – Lab harvests from embryos…
mm230: Stem cells…
mm:221: The dread disease … Old age
mm201: Stemming the tide of ignorance
mm200: Stem cells: Unlike oil… alternative source
mm172: Diabetes: Not so Simple, Simon!
mm171: Maintain your brain!

George III, our presidential protector of evangelical Christian values (and please don’t confuse him with the facts), has stifled medical research based on stem cells, on the grounds that the source of the research material was purported to be aborted fetuses.

Recently, researchers have concentrated on finding less controversial sources for stem cells. The latest breakthrough was reported in Friday’s Washington Post.


Lab Cites Stem Cell Advance

By Rick Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer | Friday, January 11, 2008; Page A04

Scientists in Massachusetts said yesterday that they had created several colonies of human embryonic stem cells without harming the embryos from which they were derived, the latest in a series of advances that could speed development of stem-cell-based treatments for a variety of diseases.

In June, scientists in Japan and Wisconsin said they had made cells very similar to embryonic stem cells from adult skin cells, without involving embryos. But that technique so far requires the use of gene-altered viruses that contaminate the cells and limit their biomedical potential.

By contrast, the new work shows for the first time that healthy, normal embryonic stem cells can be cultivated directly from embryos without destroying them.

Of course, the Bush administration is not taking this advance at face value.

But that is not likely, said Story Landis, who heads the National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Task Force, which oversees grants for studies on the medically promising cells.

The embryos Lanza used, which were donated for research, appear not to have been damaged, Landis acknowledged. However, she said, “it is impossible to know definitively” that the embryos were not in some subtle way harmed by the experiment. And “no harm” is the basis of the Bush policy, she said.

The science in question was a technical tour de force:

“It is a technically impressive piece of work,” said Douglas A. Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “They’ve demonstrated their ability to isolate human embryonic stem cell lines without destruction of the embryos” — something few scientists thought possible just a few years ago.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Lab Cites Stem Cell Advance –

Lest we lose site of what all of the shouting is about, Wikipedia has a useful research timeline.

The possibilities for using stem cells to provide breakthrough solutions to what have been incurable, mysterious and tragic diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and diabetes are compelling. And the tragedy has been compounded by the typically ignorant, anti-science stance of the Bush administration.

When will evangelicals wake up and learn that science isn’t the opposite of religion, that the two are not mutually incompatible?

Meanwhile, January 20, 2009 (as this is written, 373 days, 6 hours, 46 minutes, 40 seconds from now) cannot get here soon enough!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Note!: the link to used above is for clever illustration purposes only and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.

Share this post : it! digg it! reddit! technorati! yahoo!

mm249: OLPC – News, more news, and a review

January 10, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

One Laptop Per Child is real, and is all over the trade press. As is our wont at this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, here’s a review of previous posts on the topic:

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks
mm232: Li’l green laptops a hit in Peru
mm247: OLPC — reviews are coming in

News of Intel’s sudden departure from the OLPC board of directors came to our attention last week. This story, from eSchool News was forwarded by MUDGElet No. 2, the education professional in the family.


Intel quits One Laptop Per Child program

Chip maker, OLPC founder trade accusations about who is to blame

From eSchool News staff and wire service reports

OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte claims Intel undermined the group’s sales efforts even after joining its board.

It was like one of those ill-fated relationships you suspect won’t last, and on Jan. 3, it finally ended: Citing disagreements with the organization, Intel Corp. said it has abandoned the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, dealing a blow to the ambitious project that seeks to bring millions of low-cost laptops to children in developing countries.
The fallout ends a long-simmering spat that began even before the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker joined OLPC’s board in July, agreeing to contribute money and technical expertise. It also came only a few days before the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where a prototype of an OLPC-designed laptop using an Intel chip was slated to debut.

Seems like OLPC had some legitimate beefs with Intel.

A day after learning that Intel was abandoning his project over “philosophical” differences, Negroponte hit back, claiming on Jan. 4 that Intel had undermined his group’s effort to sell low-cost computers for schoolchildren in the developing world even after the chip company got a seat on the nonprofit’s board. He said Intel’s sales representatives had been disparaging OLPC and its XO machine as they pushed Intel’s sub-$300 Classmate PCs.

Negroponte said Intel even tried to undo a deal that OLPC already had sealed in Peru by citing flaws in the XO and telling government ministers “we ought to know, because we are on the board.” Such hostile comments were prohibited, Negroponte claimed, under the July peace treaty that brought Intel into the OLPC camp.

“I want to say we tried, but it was never a partnership,” Negroponte said. “There’s not one single thing in their contract or agreement that they lived up to.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Top News – Intel quits One Laptop Per Child program

News now comes from ZDNet blogger Dan Farber at the Consumer Electronics Show, where Nicholas Negroponte was a principal speaker.


OLPC’s Negroponte seeks truce with Intel and deal with Microsoft

Posted by Dan Farber @ 3:43 pm

During a presentation at the Consumer Electronic Show this afternoon, One Laptop Per Child’s Nicholas Negroponte didn’t address the recent rift between Intel and his organization.

Nicholas Negroponte and his baby, the OLPC

Intel recently unhooked itself from the OLPC board of directors, and Negroponte was not shy about blasting the chipmaker last week:

Despite OLPC’s best efforts to work things out with Intel and several warnings that their behavior was untenable, it is clear that Intel’s heart has never been in working collaboratively as a part of OLPC. This is well illustrated by the way in which our separation was announced single-handedly by Intel; Intel issued a statement to the press behind our backs while simultaneously asking us to work on a joint statement with them. Actions do speak louder than words in this case. As we said in the past, we view the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market.’s Michael Kanellos has some good fodder he picked up during Negroponte’s CES presentation:

What keeps this story line from being merely a pissing match among grown-ups who should know better are the stakes involved.

There’s a reason One Laptop Per Child has been so newsworthy: it’s a beacon of innovation for an industry that, Apple aside, seems to have commoditized itself into boredom.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

» OLPC’s Negroponte seeks truce with Intel and deal with Microsoft | Between the Lines |

Finally, from the same source, ZDNet’s Larry Dignan, Dan Farber’s blogging partner there, comes a recent review of the XO-1 itself. We’ve posted a couple of these recently, and they are intriguing looks at a fascinating and world-changing tool.

Lessons learned: Two weeks with the XO laptop

Posted by Larry Dignan @ 2:03 am

Repeat after me. The XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project is designed for kids. Why bore yourself with that mantra? If you don’t you may find yourself griping about something that wasn’t designed for you in the first place.

That’s one of the big takeaways from my two weeks with the XO (see unboxing gallery). Let’s face it–I bought the XO for me (err my daughter). Sure, she’d play with it, but dear old dad’s gadget lust–along with doing a good deed–drove the purchase.

So what did I learn?

1. It’s my daughter’s laptop. I’ve barely seen the thing since she’s been doing non-productive things like looking at herself in the Webcam and showing her one-year old sister the toy. Checking email? Silly grown up things. The XO is about the built in drawing program, the Web cam and icons my 5 year old guinea pig grasped instantly.

2. The XO is rugged. It has been dropped, tossed into a toy box and has had its shares of fluids on it–syrup, snot etcetera. I cringe, but the kids don’t.

3. It’s intuitive. Sure the XO is a laptop, but it’s really all about the software. Is it easy to navigate? How’s the interface? Can anyone pick it up? The Fedora based operating system rarely raised any questions for my daughter. She found the write program with little effort. And aside from the music program, which frankly was over her head, she found her way around easily.

So his five-year-old daughter grabbed it and hasn’t let go. That’s the entire story in a nutshell – a teaching tool that children play with. Education, in such short supply in much of the world, can become absorbed like all too scarce vitamins. Dignan identifies some issues with XO-1, but they don’t seem to be deal breakers.

Other odds and ends:

  • Some folks have asked me to try out the Asus EeePC, which could be a superior device–I don’t know. Meanwhile, Christopher Dawson has a series on Intel’s Classmate, a strong rival. However, these comparisons miss the point. The (emerging) market is big enough for multiple players and it’s not clear that students need an alpha male device (my chip is faster than yours and can do office productivity!). The kids just need something that works so let’s not impose that cliche device wars storyline to the OLPC.

We’ve talked a bit about the ASUS Eee PC recently. More of a conventional product, as is the Intel Classmate, but compellingly low-priced and thus a potential competitor to the XO-1.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

» Lessons learned: Two weeks with the XO laptop | Between the Lines |

OLPC XO-1, ASUS Eee PC, Intel Classmate: it’s all good. If Nicholas Negroponte has revitalized the laptop computer business, how beautiful is that?

Let’s get them all out to those educationally bereft parts of the world that need them so desperately, soonest!

As a veteran teacher once exclaimed (unfortunately, after 30 years or so the context is a mystery to me), “May the best educational experience win!”

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Share this post : it! digg it! reddit! technorati! yahoo!

mm247: One Laptop Per Child — reviews are coming in

January 9, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings


My son, an education professional, pointed me toward an interesting review of the XO, the inexpensive laptop designed for use by children in the developing world.

As faithful reader will recall without prompting, One Laptop Per Child has been a frequent topic in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© over the past eight months.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks
mm232: Little green laptops a hit in Peru
mm247: OLPC — reviews are coming in

Before we get to the inside-out analysis, let’s start with a review from Peter Glaskowsky’s technology review blog at, a mainstream PC oriented site:


Unboxing OLPC’s XO-1 laptop

Posted by Peter Glaskowsky| December 29, 2007 2:05 PM PST

… If you get an XO-1, don’t throw away the box! You’ll need it for the free year of Internet access through T-Mobile WiFi hot spots. The box has the reference number for account activation.

In keeping with the low-cost nature of the XO-1, its packaging is minimal but adequate.

XO-1 documentation

The OLPC XO-1 comes with only a few sheets of basic “Getting Started” documentation. Credit: Peter N. Glaskowsky)

The XO-1 comes with no manual, just two sheets of paper: one showing the hardware and software features of the unit plus some warning icons, and one with a thank-you note from OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte….

XO-1 open

Open, the XO-1 shows its most distinctive feature: the antenna “ears”. (Credit: Peter N. Glaskowsky)

The XO-1’s ears contain 2.4 GHz antennas shared between the WiFi and proprietary mesh networks. They’re also the locks that hold the machine closed. They engage with spring-loaded pins so the top will snap closed even if the ears are stowed first.

Glaskowsky is critical of the keyboard (lighten up, it was designed for children, after all) and battery life, but is generally impressed.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Unboxing OLPC’s XO-1 laptop | Speeds and feeds – Technology analysis by Peter N. Glaskowsky – CNET Blogs

The next reviewer, bunnie at bunnie’s blog, literally took the XO apart, and has some fascinating insights into its innovative technology.


bunnie’s blog: OLPC XO-1

… We like hardware, and the OLPC XO-1 is an interesting piece of hardware. There are plenty of teardowns for the OLPC XO-1 (including one on the OLPC wiki itself), so I won’t repeat the tedium of what screw comes out of where and just cut to what I thought were interesting highlights.

If I were to make one general comment about the OLPC XO-1, it’s that its mechanical design is brilliant. It’s a fairly clean-sheet redesign of traditional notebook PC mechanics around the goal of survivability, serviceability, and robustness (then again, I’ve never taken apart any of the ruggedized notebooks out there). When closed up for “travel”, all the ports are covered, and the cooling system is extremely simple so it should survive in dusty and dirty environments. Significantly, the port coverings aren’t done with rubberized end caps that you can lose or forget to put on–they are done using the wifi antennae, and the basic design causes the user to swivel them back to cover the ports when they are packing up the laptop to go. That’s thoughtful design.

The full review is rather esoteric (and yr (justifiably) humble svt can be as much a geek as anyone, but these Linux guys are a breed apart!), but there are some interesting photographs of the components…

Here’s a photo of the motherboard with the heat spreader on:

And here’s a hi-res photo of it with the heat spreader off (click on the image to access the hi-res version):

Notice how both of the large BGA chips are underfilled to provide better shock and vibration robustness. I actually have never seen an underfill like this before–it seems to be oozing out of the edges–and it also doesn’t seem to be very uniform (some spots seem to have a little underfill missing). Most underfills I’m familiar with to attempt to cover every gap and void underneath a chip (which is actually a very hard process problem); maybe this is some new kind of underfilling technique that expands a little bit upon cure to help cover voids and its robust to a few missing spots. If a reader is familiar with this type of underfill technique, I’d appreciate a link to it.

… and useful observations regarding the suitability of the design for its intended application: education of developing world children aged 6-12.

And the extensive comments to the blog at the end add a great deal more information.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

bunnie’s blog » Blog Archive » OLPC XO-1

There is no doubt that OLPC XO-1 is a technological tour de force. Nicholas Negroponte’s designers and manufacturers made thoughtful and innovative choices that enhanced both the hardiness and the daily practicality of the hardware for its intended use in the developing world.

One example: the brightness of the backlight as seen in bunnie’s photo, in the context of the comparatively lengthy life of the XO’s battery charge that is not yet fully to its design target, is remarkable.

The early report from Peru we published recently certainly was a positive endorsement of this innovative program in the field.

Now, we can hope that the early successes will have two outcomes.

  1. Persuade wait-and-see developing nations to revolutionize their children’s education by acquiring these world-changing devices.
  2. The novel designs and technologies developed for XO is adopted by the industry at large so that all PC users can benefit.

Okay, mainstream business laptop manufacturers, how soon can you make us a useful business PC that will run coast to coast plus terminal waiting time on a single charge? The pieces of that puzzle seem to be in place.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Share this post : it! digg it! reddit! technorati! yahoo!

mm233: Corn in the news — and not just in Iowa!

December 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ve frequently commented (most recently here) on how often connections can be drawn from disparate news sources. It happened to us again today.

Read over breakfast this depressing story in the best magazine on the planet, The Economist:


The beer crisis | Trouble brewing

Dec 19th 2007 | ST LOUIS | From The Economist print edition

A shortage of hops threatens Christmas

JUST as the festive season gets going, drinkers in America are finding their favourite beer suddenly more expensive or even—horrors!—not available at all. Hit by price increases and shortages, many breweries, particularly the small “craft brewers” and the even smaller microbreweries, are being forced to raise prices, make do with modified recipes or shut off the spigots altogether.

The humble hop, the plant that gives beer its distinctive flavour, is the main problem. Many farmers in the Pacific north-west, where America’s hop production is concentrated, have turned to more profitable lines—especially corn, which can be made into ethanol. The decrease in hop production, put at some 50% over the past decade, has sent prices through the roof. Brian Owens, the brewmaster of the O’Fallon Brewery near St Louis, Missouri, says that the variety he once bought for $3 a pound (0.45kg) now costs five times that. Many smaller breweries cannot find what they need at any price. Industry giants like Anheuser-Busch and Miller are better off, thanks to long-term contracts. But even Anheuser-Busch has been forced to raise prices for its six-packs.

A crisis of tragically epic proportions: beer unavailable, especially the increasingly popular craft or microbrews, or priced higher due to the newly high price of hops and barley.

Yr (justifiably) humble svt is somewhat cavalier about beer, as he doesn’t drink it very often (the carbs, don’t you know), but in tough times (and they seem to be inching toward tough in these parts) one takes solace where one can, and beer is the solace of choice for many. A shortage, or a significantly higher price, could wreak havoc with the social order.

And, what’s the cause of this potential unrest? Corn.

Corn is supplanting hops and barley for many farmers, since the government has made it increasingly attractive to grow corn for ethanol, totally wrongheaded though that is wrongheaded government! Go figure!

See some previous posts on the use of ethanol as fuel: starting here in the earliest days of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, and here, here, here, here.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The beer crisis | Trouble brewing |

Ethanol, inefficient as it is as fuel, causing shortages and price increases of one of the major food groups (for many): beer. Talk about the law of unintended consequences…

Thus corn was on my mind when we encountered this article in the NYTimes today. The European Union is once again (still?) grappling with the high intensity issue of the advisability of growing genetically modified corn.

GM foods is a topic we’ve handled quite eloquently (MUDGE’s humility gene must have gotten in the way of an X-ray machine, sorry) in a previous post. But, news is news.

And the Times is quite thorough covering both points of view. Interestingly, there’s actual science supporting both, as opposed to the recent cases where science is called into question on this side of the water and those callers into question can hardly spell the word science (guess the word doesn’t appear in the King James edition) much less accept its findings.


Both Sides Cite Science to Address Altered Corn

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL | Published: December 26, 2007

BRUSSELS — A proposal that Europe’s top environment official made last month, to ban the planting of a genetically modified corn strain, sets up a bitter war within the European Union, where politicians have done their best to dance around the issue.

The environmental commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said he had based his decision squarely on scientific studies suggesting that long-term uncertainties and risks remain in planting the so-called Bt corn. But when the full European Commission takes up the matter in the next couple of months, commissioners will have to decide what mix of science, politics and trade to apply. And they will face the ambiguous limits of science when it is applied to public policy.

Europe has embargoed seed and food products grown from genetically engineered plants for a decade; very convenient excuse for protectionist trade barriers. Now the World Trade Organization is pushing the EU for a change in policy. But the EU is pushing back, citing scientific studies counter to those presented in favor of GM food:

Ms. Hilbeck says that company-financed studies do not devote adequate attention to broad ripple effects that modified plants might cause, like changes to bird species or the effect of all farmers planting a single biotechnology crop. She said producers of modified organisms, like Syngenta and Monsanto, have rejected repeated requests to release seeds to researchers like herself to conduct independent studies on their effect on the environment.

The give and take on this is interesting.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Both Sides Cite Science to Address Altered Corn – New York Times

So it’s your scientists vs. my scientists, and because it’s science, there’s room for opposing theories. But the EU’s science has that slightly moldy odor of politics.

As mentioned in the post cited at the top, because of our employment at the time we were close to this debate 10 years ago in the U.S. That battle was hard fought, biotechnology vs. the Monarch butterfly (talk about a public relations nightmare for the suits!), and ultimately won in the U.S. by Big Ag, although as the Times makes clear, the Monarch’s well-being is still closely studied.

In the United States, where almost all crops are now genetically modified, the debate is largely closed.

“I’m not saying there are no more questions to pursue, but whether it’s good or bad to plant Bt corn — I think we’re beyond that,” said Richard L. Hellmich, a plant scientist with the Agriculture Department who is based at Iowa State University. He noted that hundreds of studies had been done and that Bt corn could help “feed the world.”

But the scientific equation may look different in Europe, with its increasing green consciousness and strong agricultural traditions.

And, if you let your farmers start to grow GM foods, it will be more difficult to rationalize the artificial protectionist barriers against other modified crops.

The hungry of the world (and there are so many!) can’t eat paper; unfortunately paper seems to be the chief crop of most of the world’s governments.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Share this post : it! digg it! reddit! technorati!

mm232: Little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village

December 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Faithful reader will recall that One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has been a consistent theme here at Left-Handed Complement. Here’s a handy reminder:

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks

Courtesy of (still preferred in this space to its competition, here’s a feature out of the International Herald Tribune showing OLPC in use in Peru, one of the first nations to commit to the program.


MIT spinoff’s little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village

The Associated Press | Published: December 24, 2007

ARAHUAY, Peru: Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the US$188 (€130) laptops — people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books — can’t get enough of their “XO” laptops.

At breakfast, they’re already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits. At night, they’re dozing off in front of them — if they’ve managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

“It’s really the kind of conditions that we designed for,” Walter Bender, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff program One Laptop Per Child, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.

Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of the pint-sized laptops at US$100 (€70) each.

Idealism, as is usual, has been clobbered by reality, and Negroponte’s hoped for millions of orders have not materialized. As in any manufactured product, it’s the classic chicken and egg issue: low price = high volume (assuming an attractive and viable product); high volume = low price (economies of scale).

And as we’ve theorized (but read nowhere else) the falling value of the dollar, plummeting since the program was first announced several years ago, has made unrealistic the ambitious $100 target, further impairing success on the imagined scale.

And, competition has rushed in now that OLPC has proved the concept, further impairing the ability to meet the original stretch goal.

But, the Give One, Get One program has meant that 150,000 machines will be delivered in early 2008:

Peru made the single biggest order to date — more than 272,000 machines — in its quest to turn around a primary education system that the World Economic Forum recently ranked last among 131 countries surveyed. Uruguay was the No. 2 buyer of the laptops, inking a contract for 100,000.

Negroponte said 150,000 more laptops will get shipped to countries including Rwanda, Mongolia, Haiti, and Afghanistan in early 2008 through “Give One, Get One,” a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec. 31 in which you buy a pair of laptops for US$399 (€277.50) and donate one or both.

Peru is where the rubber hits the road for OLPC, and the IHT story highlights many of the challenges: teacher training, support, internet access in a nation whose remote regions seem to operate much as they must have when first encountered by Spanish exploiters five hundred years ago.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

MIT spinoff’s little green laptop computers a hit in remote Peruvian village – International Herald Tribune

But for all of the challenges, it’s a hopeful story.

There’s still time before 31-December (program, and tax year deadlines) to participate in Give One, Get One. And, if you follow advice first expressed in this space some time ago, and even noted in the IHT story, you might want to make it Give One, Give One. In fact, as we said three months ago

This is a wonderful cause, and I would think that people who would find a $399 purchase with a 50% charitable component affordable might also wish, as the story suggests, to donate the PC they’re entitled to a (not third world, but certainly third rate) school in this country.

God knows that there are pockets of the third world within these preciously regarded borders of ours, many within our biggest cities. Then it becomes a $399 charitable contribution, serving to further education among the deserving needy in our own country as well as beyond.

If Peru’s example is typical, then OLPC’s little green machine certainly appears to be the transformative tool that Nicholas Negroponte envisioned.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm219: One Laptop per Child — Harvard speaks

December 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Previous entries on this topic:

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…


It’s a topic that just won’t quit: One Laptop Per Child. MUDGE‘s older son (the term “MUDGElet No. 2″ isn’t sufficiently dignified for the rarefied confines of Harvard, donchaknow) is a 2005 masters graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and obviously stays in touch.

He forwarded us a link to this story from Harvard Business School (HBS), aware as he is (hmmm, must be faithful reader! Loyalty hasn’t disappeared! Or at least, polite indulgence for the old man…) of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s interest in Nicholas Negroponte’s intriguing initiative.

So, though we came late to the story, this past summer, as the PR machinery geared up in preparation for first deliveries, it’s been brewing, as any ambitious project would be, for several years. Thus there are already lessons to be learned, especially marketing lessons, and HBS would like to teach them to us.


HBS Cases: One Laptop per Child

Q&A with: John A. Quelch  |  Published: December 10, 2007

Author: Martha Lagace

Drop it on the ground. Sprinkle water on its surface. Let it sit in the sun and expose it to swarms of dust—the XO laptop is designed to handle most any abuse from a child. But the journey of the XO laptop from concept to the educational tool for the world’s poorest children is turning out to be a bit more complicated than originally anticipated.

A new Harvard Business School case study called “Marketing the ‘$100 PC'” spells out these opportunities, problems, and challenges from a marketing point of view. As the case asks, can the laptop move out of the realm of “great idea, great gadget” and improve the educational possibilities for children in impoverished environments?

The concept explored is “action pricing,” where a product is developed, as an immense stretch, to meet a very low price, definitely the strategy pursued by OLPC.

The technological challenge was complex: create a tool that would be useful yet attractive to school children, with the strength to stand up to careless and primitive environments, with a screen visible in bright light, a battery capable of receiving power through multiple inexpensive means (a pull cord, a detachable solar panel), and with networking capabilities to teach cooperation and collaboration, all for $100.

So, $188 is not $100, but let’s face it, $100 isn’t $100 any more (try $109.21, and that doesn’t factor in the price of gasoline), so that’s hardly a knock.

The marketing challenge remains difficult:

“While on the surface it is a laudable vision to get one laptop to each child, and the motives are pristine, there are stumbling blocks in implementation,” observes Quelch.

The conservative nature of governments, complex bureaucracy, and decision-making hurdles can all interfere with early public sector adoption of even the most worthy innovation, he says. This slower-than-expected adoption and diffusion may have surprised the leaders of OLPC.

And finally, OLPC faces what has to be gut-wrenching competition from the fiercely competitive computer industry, who, never letting “not invented here” bother them ever, have leapt into the fray. Guess what, you don’t have to be a non-profit to sell computers for $200 — imagine what they really must cost to manufacture!

So, while I’ve cherry-picked the article, it’s still worth a visit. You even get the opportunity to purchase the case itself, if you’re interested in adding the subject to your own marketing/business curriculum.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

HBS Cases: One Laptop per Child — HBS Working Knowledge

Give One Get One is still running, and remains a worthy cause, especially if you follow Left-Handed Complement’s  suggestion to “Give One, Give One”, with the second one directed toward a third world nation closer to home, Mississippi, for example.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm215: A Maginot Line for the 21st Century?

December 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of the military

Fifth in an occasional series

The series so far…





Go to war — Play videogames



Osprey: A Flying Shame



Abolish the Air Force



Proxy killers — Can you live with that?



A Maginot Line for the 21st Century


The one where we get our boots muddy… but still can read about UAVs!


As I begin to write, it is still December 7. Still lives in infamy, although those alive to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing phrases are leaving us every day.

But an altogether fitting day to write about the military (okay, we’re at war. Every day we should be remembering and writing about the military, supporting and honoring our citizen soldiers stuck, truly stuck in the [quick]sand of Iraq).

Guess the Washington Post thought so too.



The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover

March to Modernize Proves Ambitious and Controversial

By Alec Klein

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007; Page A01

EL PASO — A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

Welcome to Future Combat Systems: warfare for the wireless era…

In the Army’s vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It’s as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

FCS was devised in the 90s in response to the Army’s recognition that its responsiveness to the new paradigm of asymmetric warfare was altogether too sluggish.

Of course, the government, especially its military, cannot plan to spend $200billions without controversy. Hugely ambitious, those plans have consistently, like every government program, delivered less than promised, later than promised.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover –

It probably is no surprise that every time FCS hits the news, its quoted costs rise, from $92billion when launched in the 90s, to $117billion in this interesting overview from 2004, to today’s $200billion and counting.

Danger Room, a member of L-HC‘s blogroll2 noted the Post’s story, and pointed to a most illuminating analysis published last May at a site, new to this writer,

Four years into the program, the Army still has not fully defined what the program’s vehicles, drones, robots and computer networks are required to do, GAO’s Francis says. Software needed to control FCS has doubled from initial estimates to a staggering 63 million lines of code, three times the amount being written for the Joint Strike Fighter. Of FCS’ 49 critical technologies, only one is fully mature. GAO noted that immature technologies are “markers for future cost growth.” The Army says 75 percent of FCS critical technologies have reached prototype stage. GAO disputed those claims, backed by an independent review team’s assessment that less than half the critical technologies were close to the prototype stage.

63 million lines of software… breathtaking. And, sure to grow. And then there’s the issue of component weight.

GAO pointed to the FCS vehicles’ burgeoning weight as signs of a program that remains poorly defined and predicated on technological breakthroughs that so far have failed to materialize. The Army originally wanted FCS vehicles to weigh less than 20 tons, and Boeing promised to meet that goal. But so far, engineers have failed to develop the high-tech, lightweight electromagnetic and composite armors required. Last year, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army acquisition deputy, said vehicles would weigh 24 tons. Army budget documents released this year said FCS vehicles would tip the scales at 27 tons. Weight growth of a vehicle meant to be rapidly deployable by air is not an immaterial concern.

The analysis does a most comprehensive job of illuminating the planning and design flaws of the system. The tilt-rotor heavy lifters, whoppingly expensive with insufficient cargo capacity, and fatal vulnerability to even today’s inexpensive ground and air defense systems. The remote sensor systems that even today are fragile and proving inadequate to the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. Armored vehicles that, as designed, would be unable to prevent fatal damage from even today’s IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which have killed or maimed so many U.S. personnel and their transports, much less future weaponry an enemy would be expected to field such as automatic cannon.

And always the issue: however brave the intention, FCS is a response to past conditions that most certainly will again endorse the adage that generals are doomed always to prepare to fight the last war.

But this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s fascination with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was ratified with this illustration, encountered at while researching FCS.

And, it’s diesel-powered!


So as some of us reflect on warfare, and our preparedness to fight the next one, on this weekend where we remember the “day that will live in infamy” that found this country only semi-prepared to fight a world war that had started nearly 10 years before, one can only sigh.

FCS: A 21st century, mobile, high-tech version of the Maginot Line?

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm214: Dell faces the music — it’s a trend!

December 6, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Dell Computer is the PC company one loves to hate. They make competent products. MUDGE uses three (count ’em, three!) of them regularly at work, actually, and has no complaints, other than those related to a corporate bean counters’ hardware refresh policy that keeps pushing back to indefinity (new coinage, if it is, covered under this site’s Creative Commons license). A five year old laptop is dark ages stuff, but I don’t blame Dell.

Years ago, Dell was an extraordinary success story. Everyone knows it: the college sophomore who figured out before anyone else how to commoditize an entire industry, and made it work by ruthlessly weeding fat out of the supply chain (i.e., source in Asia) and cutting out an entire swath of the retail distribution channel through direct to consumer telephone and then on-line sales.

Well the world has caught up, and finally, very late in this observer’s opinion, Dell has begun to make moves toward a more conventional retail selling strategy.

Dell Moves Further From Direct Sales

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | Published: December 6, 2007

DALLAS (AP) — Dell is venturing further from its direct-to-consumer sales model and will start selling computers at Best Buy stores in January.

The companies said Thursday that Best Buy Co. will sell Dell’s XPS and Inspiron notebook and desktop computers at more than 900 stores.

Dell built its business around selling personal computers directly to customers, but it has been cutting deals with retailers as growth of PC sales slowed. The Round Rock, Texas-based company lost its spot as the world’s No. 1 computer maker to Hewlett-Packard Co. late last year, and HP has stretched its lead since then.

Of course, this change of course smacks of hurry-up desperation, since as the story will note, they’ve missed the huge holiday selling season at Best Buy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Dell Moves Further From Direct Sales – New York Times

So, MUDGE. One might ask, where does the hate come in?

Nearly seven months ago, in its very fledgling days, this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© presented a cautionary tale that, I believe, sheds some light.

Allow us, if you will, to take you back in time to a place called Left-Handed Complement post no. mm006


I tell stories. This is not news to those who know me. They’ve heard all of them, many times, many too many times, before. That won’t stop me from telling them here. In fact, you are a whole new audience for my stories. I can already feel my spouse poking me, as she does about seven minutes into the latest retelling of most any episode.

Ouch. But, let’s tell the one I alluded to last post. We were coy, and called my former PC a “heck.” I don’t know why I’m being so squeamish in a venue no one at all is looking at, but we can make this tale more generic this way, because I’m sure many of you can share similar ones.

I am a software tinkerer. I am always tweaking, downloading, never leaving well enough alone. There’s never enough RAM, enough HD, a big enough monitor to handle all the stuff I try to do at one time. So far, that places me only in the 56th percentile of PC users, I’m sure. But, this was not a problem related to all of that tinkering. This was a fundamental incompatibility between my printer, a most useful multifunction model from my (and pretty much everyone’s) favorite printer company, and the BIOS in my PC. When I purchased the printer, a mainstream model, and found this incompatibility with my PC, also well in the mainstream (dude!), I was forced to download and install an earlier version of the BIOS, a scary process involving creating copy of the download on a floppy disk to install/boot from. Pretty ugly for mainstream, but not that odd for a few years ago.

One day something changed. Don’t remember anymore exactly what, but I was getting ugly results trying to print. So, into support hell for literally hours, beginning with the printer company. Thirty minutes of hold time, and a lengthy explanation later, and I was directed to the PC company. What seemed like hours later, but probably 45 minutes or so actual time, I reached a support person in what seemed like an ex-US location. Explaining took a great deal of time, and the advice received wasn’t making a lot of sense, but I stayed patient (this was a few years ago while I still had some, apparently) throughout the ordeal. And I do mean ordeal, between disconnections, being bounced back and forth between printer company and PC company, speaking near midnight with people thinking about lunch.

A most frustrating eight (eight!) hours, and the problem really wasn’t resolved. I was resolved however to change PC brands. Oddly, the printer support people, obviously located in that same part of the world, may have been better trained, or more responsive, because I remain today a committed customer of their products.

But I went out virtually the next day and bought a new PC (it was time, four years since the last purchase), from a different manufacturer altogether: a Sony Vaio desktop. Well regarded in the various reviews I found on-line, with a built-in audio/visual media reputation, known for respected laptops, and NOT a “heck.” Brought it home, and let it sit unopened in the box for a few days, waiting, I guess, for the weekend and a suitable block of time – migrating from one PC to the next is not lightly undertaken (unlike placing a support call, it turns out, even though the time commitment turned out to be roughly similar!).

So, Sunday afternoon, took my shiny new box out of its box, plugged it all together, turned it on, and …

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Sigh. Don’t know what happened to it between factory and my desk, but it was, and I can hear Andy Sipowicz saying it, D.O.A.

Okay, what to do? First, I’ll call tech support. Sigh.

So I called, and very much to my surprise, navigated through a simple menu, waited virtually no time at all, and found myself talking to a well informed support person.

In Florida!

He said that he could get someone out to my house the next day, but suggested that the best bet would be to return it to the retailer for an immediate replacement, which I did.

Glass-half-empty man, my standard persona, would usually think: what a terrible choice. D.O.A. out of the box! Find another brand!

Glass-half-full man, carrying the scars from eight hours of recent tech support frustration, actually thought: D.O.A., but resolved pleasantly, immediately (although it required an extra round-trip schlep to the retailer), by a cheerful person working in Florida on a Sunday afternoon.

The replacement system has worked perfectly ever since, although it is starting to show its age (not enough real horsepower for Vista, though I’m not seriously contemplating that can of worms!). Until and unless something horrible happens with my Vaio RS620G or my dealings with Sony, I’m sticking with that brand. They deserve it.

The lesson seems obvious to me, and I’ve read in the 2½ years since this incident that my former brand has begun to rethink its outsourcing ways.

There’s more to the bottom line than the bottom line. It’s the quality of the beans to be counted, Mr. Green Eyeshade. Or else, there just might be fewer beans to count next quarter.

The kid does tell a story, doesn’t he?

Okay, you’ve figured out what brand “heck” represented in the story.

So it’s this observer’s opinion that Dell’s problems of late have not been due to their direct to consumer model suddenly becoming obsolete.

I dare say that on-line retail sales of all kinds, especially technical gear like computers, is at an all-time high. Gear-heads like yours truly love to itemize components of PCs down to the cubic feet per minute air movement specification of their cooling fans, although as PC penetration moves into the last hold-out households prepackaged units sold by slick marketers like Best Buy will definitely move the needle.

But the issue is, if they’re so good, how come they were passed up? Let’s face it, everybody buys their components in Asia; many now assemble complete boxes there. It’s this curmudgeon’s perception that as opposed to outsourced supply, outsourced support, an easily discernable difference, has gradually chased customers away.

It’s no secret that Dell has moved support for their business customer base back on-shore, in response to strongly stated dissatisfaction.

Consumers, though, making an individual purchase every 2-4 years don’t have the business marketplace’s traction with a manufacturer, but they will, as MUDGE has, eventually exercise the only control that individuals have in a capitalist economy: vote with their feet. Here’s a trade publication story from a couple of years ago that supports my analysis.

I so voted, and lots of folks must have joined me, leading to HP’s recent attainment of sales leadership in the market.

I believe that Dell’s reputation for indifferent consumer support practices is what caught up to them. Maybe Best Buy and their Geek Squad can help repair the reputation.

In a time when the venerable and mighty IBM brand on a PC is owned by a Chinese manufacturer called Lenovo, U.S. companies can’t afford to stumble.

It’s it for now. Thanks,