Thanks to a tip from Walter Bender, I discovered that wife Amy and I are featured in the new Cult of LEGO book from No Starch Press. My 2007 photo of Amy modeling a One Laptop per Child XO-1 laptop camera viewfinder made of LEGO bricks runs full bleed on page 41. The viewfinder is shown as an example of one of a wide variety of ingenious uses for LEGO bricks. The book itself is a broad survey of LEGO history, culture and fandom.
The Cult of LEGO is available in bookstores and online. No Starch Press offers an ebook or ebook/print bundle on their web site. The PDF ebook is pictured here on my iPad.
The LEGO viewfinder was discovered by design professor Phil Renato, who collaborated with me to create a custom design for 3D printing. We made a couple hundred of them for sale and gifting. The photo of Walter Bender looking through that viewfinder has been used far and wide. The viewfinder was even converted into a USB flash drive. Then Vik Olliver of RepRap fame came up with a simpler design that could be printed from an XO laptop to the DIY RepRap 3D printer.
My ongoing involvement with LEGO through the MIT Media Lab and the OLPC Learning Club of DC attracted a visit from producers of the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics products. I provided consulting on approaches to optimizing their low-cost WeDo robotics kit for the OLPC XO laptop. The discussions led to my introducing to LEGO the team of developers that did the port of the Win/Mac software to Linux that is now being deployed to 20,000 kids in Peru.
I’m looking forward to helping LEGO some more in 2012.
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.
Location change! This month we are deviating from our plan and meeting at Nortel Networks again where we have a more convenient environment for doing software updates to the XO laptops.
What: Family XO Mesh Meetup
When: Saturday, October 18th, 2008, 10 am to 1 pm
Where: Nortel Networks, 101 Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20001 [Map]
As the title of this post suggests, we’re going to show things related to open source software and hardware. First, we’ll pass around the very first copies of OLPC XO Laptop and Sugar User Interface printed manuals! My copies are pictured above. They look an feel fabulous. These print-on-demand books can be ordered from Lulu.com or you can download the PDFs for free to print yourself or read on a computer screen. The manuals are the result of a team of volunteers working with the FLOSS Manuals project. FLOSS stands for “free, libre, open source software.” The FLOSS web site offers an ever growing collection of community authored manuals for various popular open source packages. More than just PDFs to download, the web site lets you build your own custom PDFs by selecting only the chapters you want. Each chapter is written in a self-contained style. Adam Holt, who called in to the last meeting from OLPC Headquarters spoke at length about the recent book sprint event in Austin during which the majority of the content of the two OLPC manuals was authored. I know many of our club members have been pining for good documentation in printed form. Be happy now! Even better, if you don’t think a FLOSS manual covers a topic you need, you can jump in and add content to benefit others.
The bulk of our meeting time will be devoted to helping anyone who wants to upgrade to the new Sugar 8.2.0 update. I’ve been using it for a while, and it makes my XO feel like a brand new laptop with speed and usability improvements as well as a raft of bug fixes. As always, there’s a small gotcha: this new release is best installed clean on your XO wiping out everything on it in the process. If you have files in your Journal you wish to keep, they should be dragged to a USB drive. Customizations such as Adobe Flash, Firefox, Opera, Java, web radio, video players will be lost. We will likely be able to help reinstall some of these customizations, so please let us know in advance (curiouslee [at] gmail.com) so we can be prepared and do post to the discussion forum. This new update is the one that will be shipped with the upcoming Give One Get One 2008 program now being offered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/xo.
One very pleasant surprise in this new Sugar update is that the Scratch Sensor board now works with Scratch! Scratch was demonstrated a few meetings ago by Richard Bullington-McGuire. It’s essentially a way to program animations and games using pieces of software code that snap together like Lego bricks. The sensor board, now marketed as the PicoBoard for USD$50, plugs into the XO’s USB port to provide light, sound, resistance, push button, and slider inputs to the Scratch environment. One club member suggested an alarm system for a child’s bedroom could be created with Scratch and the sensor board. I hope to demo this at the meeting.
Do try to check back here a day or two before the meeting in case there are any updates. I am only planning to send one email update. Not on our email list? Go here.