Hardware Hacking category

Next Club Meeting at DIY Fair, DC Library

With the recent OLPC Community Summit in San Francisco and news that my project developing digital literacy lessons in Etoys for street children in Zambia won a grant from USAID, I’ve arranged to have a club meeting as part of a display I’m setting up at the DC Library’s DIY Fair:

On Saturday, Nov. 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 18 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Adaptive Services Division of the DC Public Library will host a DIY (Do It Yourself) Fair in the Great Hall of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW. The DIY Fair will be a celebration of creativity for people with and without disabilities.

You can register for the DIY Fair through Eventbrite http://dcdiyfair2012.eventbrite.com/

The Learning Club meeting will take place Saturday Nov. 17 at 10am on the second floor of the east lobby of the DC Library during the Fair. I will give an update using the presentations I gave at the OLPC Summit on OLPC open hardware and Lubuto Library in Zambia, show off the new OLPC 15 watt solar panel with an XO-1.75 laptop, talk about the USAID grant and relay some significant news on the future of OLPC (much positive, some uncertain). I will have USB drives with the latest stable build of the XO-1 operating system for anyone who needs to upgrade their laptop. The upgrade will overwrite the contents of your laptop, so be sure to copy off important files. If you have any other special needs, please contact me in advance.

At around 12 noon, I will set up some displays I recently assembled for the local First Lego League Senior Solutions Science Expo and will be there until 3pm and during Sunday’s scheduled Fair hours. On display will be a Raspberry Pi computer running MIT Scratch and Lego WeDo, my exact replica of the Mars Curiosity Rover built entirely in Lego bricks designed by former NASA engineer Stephen Pakbaz and an XO-1.75 laptop with the digital literacy lessons developed for street children in Zambia.

This will be the last Learning Club meeting for 2012, so please use the meeting opportunity and display hours next weekend at the DC Library to bring your questions about OLPC, open source learning, open source hardware and informal digital learning.
written by Mike Lee on 12 November 2012 Comments Off

A water drop microscope for the XO laptop

Bill Tuk of OLPC-SF emailed to tell me about how, for years, he has been using a drop of water over the OLPC XO laptop camera aperture to convert it into a microscope. The technique saw a resurgence recently when Scientific American blogged about insect photographer Alexander Wild, who put a water drop on the iPhone 4 camera to make macroscopic photos. His sample photos of a flower, ant and dime look incredible.

Earlier today, with low expectations based on my past experiences with the low resolution, low contrast XO camera, I set an XO-1.75 beta machine (any XO laptop will work) with screen face up on my porch railing and dabbed a drop of tap water on the camera aperture window with a plastic drinking straw.

The preview in the Record activity went completely blurry, but unlike most any other laptop, I was still able to clearly see the activity screen in the bright afternoon sunlight. I had some random objects from my yard and kitchen. Holding a yellow 1×2 Lego brick in my fingers, I hovered it over the water drop. The letters LEGO burst onto the screen from the sunlit brick. The quality of the image was excellent for an XO. Some of my shots are in the collage above and in an annotated set on Flickr.

It is Bill’s wish that this simple, zero-cost technique become a standard learning exercise for all children who use XO laptops. Here are some tips he provided:

  • Use a 1-inch square piece of clear plastic cellophane from a CD/DVD wrapper or cigarette pack to hold the water drop so that it can be kept centered over the camera aperture
  • Manually focus by moving the object closer or further from the face-up XO camera
  • Video can be taken as well (perhaps of a wiggling bug)
  • Clean up the water with a tissue or towel

The clear plastic disc over the the XO camera is glued completely in place, so I just put my drop of water directly on without any problems. Even a small bottle of water will be enough to keep an entire class of XOs refreshed with water drops every 15 minutes for many hours of field exploration. The XO’s daylight readable screen makes it easy for the children to share their photos and reflect on them by taking notes and making sketches.

We’re hoping that water drops on XO laptop cameras will inspire millions of young Van Leeuwenhoeks around the world.

Here are some resources I found related to water drop magnifiers:

Historical information

Using clothespins for support

Water drop on an Android smartphone camera

Water drop on an iPhone 3G camera

Book: Single Lens: The Story of the Simple Microscope, Brian J. Ford, 1981

written by Mike Lee on 18 March 2012 Comments Off

OLPC News Special Hardware Meet-up in DC


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.

Hope to see you soon!

Flickr photo by Wayan Vota.

written by Mike Lee on 8 July 2010 Comments Off

The new Pixel Qi screen ‘n me

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 2010 Comments Off

Sugar Labs DC to release its TimeLapse Activity

TimeLapse Activity

TimeLapse is computer software for the Sugar Learning Platform used to gather periodic data (sound and images).  It is the first software activity developed by Sugar Labs DC and runs on the OLPC XO-1 laptop. The idea for TimeLapse grew out of the exciting, eclectic, interdisciplinary meeting of scientists, computer programmers, pedagogues, and hardware hobbyists originally brought together by the OLPC Learning Club DC.

Dr. Frank Linton, who has an observation bee hive in his house, was interested in studying the relationship between the sound made by the hive and the health and well being of the bees inside.  He wondered if he could use his XO laptop to gather periodic sound sampling from the hive.  This real world need became the seed for the development of TimeLapse.

Over the past two years, with Dr. Linton acting as customer, Jeff Elkner, and a group of young programmers from Sugar Labs, DC have made steady improvements to TimeLapse.  The current release is the first one that is installable through the Browse Activity in Sugar, making TimeLapse easily available to Sugar users all over the world.

Come celebrate the accomplishment of these talented young programmers.  Bring your XO and try out TimeLapse for yourself.

Update: TimeLapse is now available for download on the Sugar  Labs activities site.

Note time change!!!
When: Saturday, January 16th, 2010, 1 pm to 4 pm

Arlington Career Center
816 South Walter Reed Drive,
Arlington, VA 22204
Contact Page, Map, Aerial Photo, Bus Info)

Walter Bender of Sugar Labs will join in by video conference from Cambridge, MA.

We’ll also raffle off an original copy of the new XtraOrdinary 2010 SD card!

written by Mike Lee on 6 January 2010 Comments Off

Can you mesh me now?

Can you mesh me now?

Updated 2/20 – Note the location change from Arlington, VA to Nortel Networks in D.C. New information is below in BOLD starting with the Nortel street address.

I hear echoes of the Verizon Wireless commercials when I see all the people at our meetups trying to mesh. It’s the new primal urge of XO owners. Now it’s time to channel those urges into fun and productive activity!

Hot on the heels of our last meeting, Kevin Cole and Jeff Elkner are interested in hosting monthly XO meetups / development sprints. They are thinking of meeting the 4th Saturday of each month, and alternating the location between the Arlington Career Center and Gallaudet University (see map).

While still in the planning stage, the first one has already been scheduled for this month. The idea is to bring together three groups of people to work on the following things:

  • Kids and parents who want to meet other kids and parents and do cool things together with their XOs.
  • Software developers wanted to work on software for the XO.
  • Educational materials developers wanting to collaborate on the development of educational materials for the XO.

Having these three groups co-locate will create all kinds of synergistic possibilities. Let the games begin!

What: Family XO Mesh Meetup

When: Saturday, February 23rd, 2008, 10 am to 1 pm

Where: Nortel Networks, 101 Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20001

A team is setting up an OLPC school server (which will make meshing much easier) and coordinating with the OLPC Support team to help install system updates, activate developer’s keys on anyone’s XO and generally troubleshoot technical issues.

The meeting will start with a few minutes of introductions by the leaders of the table activities. Then we will break into groups for about 30 minutes for discussion. We’ll pause for quick reportouts from each group on tips, discoveries, aspirations, frustrations, etc. Then we’ll all mesh some more until 1 pm.

Nortel Networks is a secure office complex so we will have to assign someone to let people in between 9:45am-10am. The building is walking distance from the Union Station and Judiciary Square Metro Stations.

Click here for a map. Also, our wiki page is seeing some activity now.

The green squiggles in my illustration are from a camera toss photo by Dan Simpson licensed under CC 2.0.

written by Mike Lee on 7 February 2008 15 commenti

The OLPC Learning Club DC and Sugar Labs DC are independent grassroots organizations supporting the missions of One Laptop per Child and Sugar Labs.

contact us

mike lee -
curiouslee at gmail.com

jeff elkner -
jeff at elkner.net

kevin cole -
dcloco at gmail.com

luke faraone -
luke at faraone.cc

wayan vota -
wayan at olpcnews.com


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