Around the web: August 25th to August 30th

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

Asus eee pc: 10 observations

The EEE PC


If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. — Frank Lloyd Wright

A gave me a supremely cool gadget for Christmas: The Asus Eee PC. I’ve been using this most compelling toy subnotebook productivity tool for over three months now.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the Asus Eee PC:

1. The Eee PC is small. Very small. The display is just seven inches wide. Here are some pics of the Eee next to my 12-inch PowerBook. I don’t use the Eee for my everyday work. It’s too small to use as a primary work computer, but it’s great for tinkering on the Web or using while on the road.

The EEE PC

The EEE PC

2. The machine is extremely lightweight. Mine weighs just two pounds. If I lived in a cool enough climate to wear a jacket, I could put the Eee in my jacket pocket. And take it places. Like to parties. And be a total dork.

3. Combine these two points with the fact that it has a solid-state, 4 gigabyte flash drive — meaning that it has no moving internal parts — and you’ve got yourself the perfect device for staying connected on the road. I’ve used my Eee throughout Thailand and on the road in Vietnam.

4. The Eee has some great built-in features:

– The 4 gig drive is big enough for documents, photos, and some music. With a 1 or 2 GB thumb drive, you’ll have all the space you need.
– It has a built-in Webcam and comes pre-loaded with Skype, so it makes a great portable videophone.
– The battery lasts three hours or so, and the charger (pictured below) is slightly larger than a mobile phone charger.
– It lacks, however, an internal optical drive, but I haven’t missed that.

The EEE PC

5. The Eee PC won’t break the bank: the 4 gig version retails for about $400 in the US, though it costs a bit less here.

6. My Eee is black, but the device also comes in…pink. Here’s our friend’s S‘s Eee. She bought it here in Bangkok when she was visiting from the US.

The EEE PC

7. The machine, which Internerds the world over have been lusting over for quite some time, has got an interesting history and some serious geek cred. The Eee was developed by Asustek, a Taiwanese manufacturer that decided to get into the small, inexpensive laptop game after witnessing the attention lavished upon the One Laptop Per Child project.

8. The Eee is powered by Linux. To keep costs low, Asus developed the Eee to run on the open-source Linux operating system, instead of Windows. (If you think PCs are the true computers of the working man, then the Eee PC must be considered equally utilitarian.)

9. One drawback: the touchpad is a bit finicky, so it really pays to buy a mouse.

10. Oddly, the wireless connection doesn’t connect to a preferred network by default, so you should change it to connect to your home wifi signal on boot. Here’s how to make that tweak.

Other sites that contain more Eee-related info include EeeUser.com and EeeSite.net.

Question Box

Question Box: Connecting People in Rural India to the Web

Question Box is a simple means for allowing people living in rural India to access the Web:

Question box is a simple telephone intercom. Its purpose is to connect people to the Internet. It requires no literacy or computer skills.

Users place a free call by pushing the green button. They connect to an operator sitting in front of an Internet-enabled computer.

Users ask the operator questions. The operator goes online and finds their answers, translating them into the local language. The operator also sends & receives emails on the caller’s behalf.

In the near future, users will be able to call the operator directly from their telephones.

The Future as Seen from 1978

The Usborne Book of the Future was published in 1978 and envisions the world in the year 2000 “and beyond.”

Some of my favorite predictions include:

– the human-robot space exploration teams,

military troops transported by rocket and then dispatched via armed “hovercars,”

– these crustacean-like aliens pondering high-tech crystal balls,

– (under the heading 1991-2000) sunlight-reflecting mirrors in space that provide light for the dark side of the earth,

– (under the heading 2001-2050) an “electromagnetic catapult” on the moon used to fling mining materials to “space factories.”

Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac 2008

Mark Hurst writes one of my favorite blogs, Good Experience. It’s all about customer experience and usability — essentially, how organizations can create products, services, and Web sites that are more helpful and easier to use. For the past five years, Hurst has put together Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac. The 2008 edition is now available as a free PDF.

From his introduction:

If you’re not familiar with Uncle Mark, here’s the deal: I review all the major consumer technology products and give my ONE favorite pick in each category… not the “17 top digital cameras”, but the ONE camera that you should buy. The guide concludes with an Almanac section where I say whatever comes to mind, mostly tips and tricks that I can’t fit anywhere else.

I don’t agree with all of Hurst’s suggestions, but his approach to selecting the best gadgets is spot-on: When it comes to consumer electronics, simplicity is vastly under-valued by product designers the world over. Just because more features are possible doesn’t mean they’re a good idea.

Kim Jong Il: “I am an Internet expert”

Kim Jong-Il

AFP:

Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has boasted of being an “Internet expert,” reports said Saturday.

The communist state keeps itself closed to the outside world to prevent so-called spiritual pollution from subverting its hardline socialist system.

Kim told delegates at this week’s historic inter-Korean summit his Internet expertise made him reluctant to allow further access to the Web in the communist state, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Kim’s comment came as he turned down South Korea’s proposal that a joint industrial park in the communist state be connected to the Internet.

“I am an Internet expert. Many problems would arise if the Internet is connected to other parts of the North,” Yonhap quoted Kim as saying.

On his way home to Seoul from the summit in Pyongyang, Roh said Kim seemed to be “very familiar with the technical aspects of the Internet.”

The media is a propaganda tool in North Korea, where televisions and radios North Korea are tuned to official channels only, and the leadership is aware of the Internet’s potential to stir up dissent.

It operates its own version of the Internet, a highly censored Intranet that is policed by the Korea Computer Center, North Korea’s window on the worldwide web and its leading high-technology research and development hub.

In 2000, Kim took then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by surprise by asking for her e-mail address, demonstrating his strong interest in science and technology.

(Emphasis mine.)

How to download Skype and get up and running


I get a lot of questions about Skype — people ask me how it works and how I use it. So here’s a description of my setup. I’ve found Skype to be enormously helpful in communicating with friends, family, and colleagues all over the world. And I’m amazed that so many of my friends — otherwise intelligent, tech-savvy folks — aren’t taking advantage of the service.

First of all: What is Skype, anyway? The simple explanation: It’s an application that allows you to make calls over the Internet. Using Skype, you can call from your computer to other Skype users, or you can make calls to traditional land lines or cell phones. Using Skype is typically much cheaper than using land lines, and for international calls, the sound quality is often better.

Here’s how to get Skype up and running on your computer.

1. Download and install Skype for free from the Skype Web site. It works on both PCs and Macs.

2. Buy a headset. There’re a wide variety available in the Skype store, or on Amazon.com. You can also find headsets in the Apple Store. Note: if you’re on a Mac, make sure that the headset you buy is, indeed, Mac-compatible. While most laptops have built-in microphones and speakers, it’s best to use a headset — standard earphones plus a mic that you speak into — to achieve good call quality. That said, some newer laptops have built-in microphones that’re pretty good. But using a headset is best.

3. Tweak your audio settings. In the Skype application, go to:

Skype > Preferences > Audio

…and make sure that your headset is selected under both Input and Output. You may also have to do the same thing to your computer’s System Preferences > Sound settings. On a PC, I understand this can be done by going to:

Start > Control panel > Sounds and audio devices

4. Call other Skype users. There’s no charge for calling another Skype user — you both simply need to be online and have Skype running at the same time.

5. Buy SkypeOut credit. This allows you to call from your computer to land lines and mobile phone numbers. The rates vary, but it’s much, much cheaper than calling conventionally, even using domestic or international calling cards. Here’re the rates for all international destinations. I buy credit in US$25 chunks.

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you might want to attempt some advanced Skype maneuvers:

6. Buy a SkypeIn phone number. It’s US$38 per year, and comes with voice mail. I have one with a Washington, DC area code so that people can call me from the US. Callers pay whatever rate they’d normally be charged for dialing a 202 area code number. These calls are then routed automatically to my computer. I pay for these calls, but the rate is quite reasonable. If I’m online, I simply answer the call in Skype with my headset. If my computer is turned off, I…

7. Use the call forwarding feature to send calls automatically to my cell phone. This is easy to do — just enter your local cell phone number and the call will reach you. (This works for folks dialing your SkypeIn number as well as folks calling you directly on Skype.)

This is perhaps the coolest of Skype’s features: What this means is that if friends or family call my 202 area code number, I might answer the phone on my computer here in Bangkok. Or I might be away from my desk and answer the call on my cell phone. Or if I happen to be traveling in another country, I can pop a local SIM card into my cell phone and answer the call there. (Related blog post: “I live in Russia, my phone lives in New York.”)

8. Get a Web cam and add video-conferencing to your Skype calls. The new Mac laptops have built-in Web cams and work seamlessly with Skype.

A few caveats:
– Skype reception — and thus the quality of your calls — depends on your Internet connection. Using a LAN cable is usually better than WiFi; the more stable the connection, the better. Weaker connections mean that call quality is sometimes compromised, or calls may occasionally drop.
– Generally speaking, calls from Skype to land lines — or from land lines to Skype — sound better than calls to or from cell phones. That said, I’ve received calls from people on their mobile phones that are routed via Skype to my mobile phone and the quality is clear and there’s very little delay.

Here’re some resources for further reading:

– The Skype help page offers general instructions.
– The Skype Wikipedia page provides a good overview of the service

So there you go. Have fun. My Skype ID is newleypurnell. You can thank me next time we talk.