Demoing the litl webbook to Sugar Labs’ Sean Daly at a recent impromptu meet-up.
*** Note new time for August meeting. See end of this post. A new blog post will have more details.
This month, we’re doing a weeknight meet-up to look at a bunch of cool new OLPC-related hardware and another new release of the Sugar Learning Platform.
OLPC News July DC Meetup: See the Pixel Qi screen Tuesday, July 13 at 6:30pm – 10:00pm Looking Glass Lounge 3634 Georgia Ave NW in DC 1 block south of Georgia/Petworth Metro Station RSVP on Facebook if you do the social networking thing…
The star of the evening will be a working example of the long awaited daylight-readable Pixel Qi 3Qi netbook screen recently offered as a DIY kit to swap into several models of off-the-shelf netbooks. The screen is the breakthrough technology originally developed by Mary Lou Jepsen for the OLPC XO that is now deployed on close to 2 million machines in developing countries. This technology is not only available now as a kit for hobbyists from Maker Shed, but will also soon be built into some major brands of consumer netbooks. See our previous blog post about this impressive DIY screen replacement kit.
We will also have the latest major milestone 10.1.1 build of the Sugar Learning Platform on Fedora for BOTH the OLPC XO-1 and XO-1.5. More details on the release notes page. This is a must-have if you own a G1G1 XO laptop. It’ll be like you have a new machine after this upgrade and the Learning Club can advise you on the process at this and future meet-ups and meetings.
Hot off the UPS truck after a big (and much needed) price drop is Mike’s “litl webbook,” which is a large digital picture frame that flips around to become a web-only laptop that also connects to your flat screen TV. The litl is significant to the OLPC movement in that it was designed by the same firms that worked on the original OLPC XO. Pentagram NY designed the user interface, and fuseproject the industrial design. The litl’s radically simple new user interface even contains software coded by several former OLPC employees. The litl is the closest embodiment to a consumer oriented XO laptop, except that it’s meant for your comfy broadband-connected living room or kitchen.
Jon Camfield will have the current incarnation of FrontlineSMS installed on his GSM modem-equipped OLPC XO-1. FrontlineSMS can send text message blasts out to groups, and manage replies, using only cellphone service. The system has proven invaluable for effecting agile communications in remote areas that do not have standard internet connectivity.
The Learning Club’s next meeting will be back at the Arlington Career Center on Saturday August 21 August 7, 2010*** at 1pm. Sugar Labs DC will present a much-anticipated workshop on TurtleArt as well as provide a peek at the social networking site they are building to support the software. Check back on the blog the week before or in your email inbox for meeting updates.
My six-year-old daughter Cici and I compared our two Pixel Qi screens at high noon. Also see video below.
Like many, I’ve been tantalized by the videos produced by Charbax of the Pixel Qi dual-mode display—originally invented for the OLPC XO-1—that is headed for integration into some consumer laptops and tablets. Pixel Qi’s founder, Mary Lou Jepsen (hardware designer of the original XO), announced months ago that they would partner with a distributor to offer some of the screens as a part to swap into some common netbooks. While I was on vacation last week, the announcement came suddenly that Maker Shed had put the screens up for sale on its online store, and I placed my order immediately. Good thing, because they sold out in a few hours. Though I only requested USPS shipping with delivery confirmation, I was really surprised to find the box from Maker Shed waiting for me when I arrived home two days later. Some folks who paid for FedEx only got it a day or two sooner. The screen module is pricey at $275–the same price as many netbooks out there, but I didn’t want to wait who knows how long until the mass production products come out (maybe later this summer or in the fall). And I imagine netbook manufacturers will add a price premium for these screens.
I had coincidentally picked up an Acer Aspire One D250 netbook last month when Woot.com had them on sale for one day at $199. This happens to be one of the netbooks that can accommodate the screen. So even though I was wiped from a 10-hour car ride, I was excited to do the upgrade that night. I had watched the Maker Shed how-to video a few times to study the procedure. For my Acer, I needed a small phillips-head screwdriver and an X-acto hobby knife with #11 blade. I used the knife to pick off the rubber plugs that cover the four retaining screws in each of the corners of the front black bezel of the screen. With the first screws out, I had to carefully pry off the bezel, making disconcerting snapping sounds as each of the two dozen or so plastic tabs snapped loose as I worked my fingers around between the bezel and screen. Then, with the bezel dangling down on the keyboard, two more screws, one on each side of the screen, had to be removed. This freed the LCD screen module and two vertical hinge bars from the top cover. At this point, several wires (microphone, web cam, etc.) around the screen were exposed and dangled out a bit. Next, while holding up this parted-open, wire-dangling assembly, four more screws had to be removed from the two long metal hinge bars that were snug with the left and right vertical sides of the screen module. The top cover was also free, but not removable because of the microphone and video cables. The most delicate step was peeling off the two sticky tape pieces to free the tiny, thin video connector cable. The new Pixel Qi screen slipped in easily, and I reversed all the steps to reassemble the screen, tucking in stubborn wires and plastic hinge pieces along the way. The Acer booted fine and I immediately noticed that the backlit mode was not quite as contrasty as the Optronics OEM screen, but not so much so that anyone would notice. The procedure took about 30 minutes. As it was night, I was only able to dim the screen to lowest setting and shine a bright light to see the reflective mode. But the screen still looked impressive.
Cici and I went out to our front yard at high noon the next day (more photos here) to compare the Pixel Qi-enhanced Acer with the OLPC XO-1.5, which still has the original four-year-old technology. As you can see in the photo and video, the new Pixel Qi screen has better contrast, darker blacks, and a cooler tone than the beige tinted XO screen. The XO’s dual mode screen still rules in terms of pixel resolution at 1200 x 900 vs. the Acer’s 1024 x 600. It was amazing to see Windows 7, Amazon Kindle software, the New York Times web site and a QuickTime video in direct sunlight. Shades of gray and some color tints are visible. Besides the XOs and e-ink based Kindle ereaders, no other color screen device I own can be seen as clearly in sunlight. Not even the famed iPad. In the video, you can see that at a certain angle where line of sight and sun are aligned, the new Pixel Qi screen glows as if backlit! While the bright sun easily overpowered the minimal screen backlight that persisted, future netbooks will have software driver updates to enable the backlight to be completely turned off. I couldn’t find a straightforward way to turn off the backlight in Windows 7 on the Acer without possibly hacking the registry (not). Mary Lou says the power saving with backlight off can be up to 80%. My basic three-cell battery may now effectively become a six-cell!
After seeing this screen’s content practically explode into the daylight, I just have to expect that soon, all mid-to-high end netbooks will have this technology. Related screen technologies such as Mirasol and Liquivista are still many months away and will definitely be more costly.
I’ll be bringing the modded Acer to our upcoming OLPC News Meet-up on Tue 7/13 at 6:30pm at the Looking Glass Lounge, and to our meeting at the Arlington Career Center the following Saturday at 1pm. Do check back here on the blog or for the email confirming those events.
written by Mike Lee on 6 July 2010Comments Off
The OLPC Learning Club DC and Sugar Labs DC are independent grassroots organizations supporting the missions of One Laptop per Child and Sugar Labs.