Monthly Archives: April 2008

It’s here, it’s green, and it’s got ears!

And it’s so exciting! My OLPC laptop has arrived at last!

In case you’ve been living in a cupboard for the past couple of years (this is mainstream, afterall), the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project’s aim is to design a small, cheap, lightweight but robust laptop as a tool to support education in developing countries. The XO (or OLPC) laptop is the result of that effort.

So what’s it like? Well, I’m typing this blog post on it. The width of the laptop is 22.5cm (I just measured it) so the keyboard is quite small. I can’t touchtype on it but I can work up to a fairly efficient multi-finger typing. It’s a bit like typing on the Psion palm-top but the keys feel nicer because they’re rubbery and press easily.

The screen on the XO is amazing. It was designed especially for the requirements of the OLPC project. Many of the children that will use the XO laptop are schooled, or spend a lot of time, out of doors. Therefore, a typical laptop screen would be no good – bright sunlight would render the screen unreadable. There are two modes to the XO’s screen: a full-colour mode which is

pretty readable in sunlight as it is, and a monochrome mode which actually gets clearer to read the brighter the sunlight. Why aren’t all laptops made like this? Working at home in the summer would be so much more fun!

What else? Well, the ‘ears’ are actually the wireless antenae which will still work, apparently, even if you snap one off (they’re actually slightly flexible and tougher than they look in photos). I can connect to my home WPA-encrypted wireless network (but not, sadly, to my work LEAP netwok). There’s no ethernet port but you can, i think, get an ethernet USB dongle to work.

It has a built-in webcam. It comes with 1 GB solid state storage but I’ve put an 8 GB SDHC card in the slot beneath the screen to have more space than I’m bound ever to need. It has a built-in microphone and speakers, with mini-jack sockets for plugging in an external mic and headphones. Or, alternatively, you can plug in different inputs (eg a temperature sensor) to the mic socket.

And there’s ‘ebook mode’… You know how you can get some highly-priced regular laptops that have a screen that swivels round into ‘tablet mode’? Well, the XO does that too. To be fair, the XO doesn’t have a touch-sensitive screen but then its screen swivels so that you can use it to read ebooks. At the press of a button, you can rotate the display by 90, 180, 270, or 360 degrees. And if reading an ebook isn’t your thing, you can play games using the game buttons on either side of the screen.

I know I’m sounding like a commercial break now but it really is that cool. And rather sweet for a inanimate object. And it has a handle. And it fits in my handbag.

Oh, and did I mention it’s green?

And it has ears. 🙂

Feeling smug down in Economy

I recently booked a transatlantic return flight for Tony and me with Virgin Atlantic. When you view your booking details on the Virgin website, they include a link to their carbon offsetting scheme.

A while ago, I wrote a blog post (Carbon off-setting) in which I described my current view (or near lack of) of carbon off-setting schemes. When I booked the Virgin flights, I didn’t immediately go for the carbon off-setting option because it pointed to a company I’d not heard of and, in a world of dodgy carbon off-setting schemes, how do I know they’re any different?

So I did a bit of research. I remember last year the UK Government (specifically Defra) identified four carbon off-setting companies that were kind of recommended but kind of not. Which is a reflection of the state of confusion customers are in. While I used Climate Care last year because that’s what The Co-op uses (and, apparently, The Guardian too), Climate Care isn’t one of the companies on Defra’s list, which means that it doesn’t meet Defra’s guidelines. But are Defra’s guidelines really that good?

I came across an interesting article in The Guardian from last summer. At the end of the article, it mentions a not-for-profit Gold Standard method which accredits carbon off-setting projects (renewable energy and energy efficiency projects with sustainable development benefits). This rang a bell with what I’d seen on the Virgin website.

Virgin Atlantic have set up a scheme with myclimate, a Swiss not-for-profit foundation, that customers can use to offset their flights. myclimate have several projects, including some that have already achieved accreditation by the Gold Standard, which is supported by several groups, including Greenpeace.

You can be cynical about an air travel company providing this kind of service – obviously it’s great for their image – but it does look as if Virgin have spent a fair amount of effort on it. They even provide a page explaining how Virgin calculates the carbon emissions of their customers (we’re travelling Economy – hence my titular smugness).

So, having read around a bit about the Gold Standard method of assessing projects’ effectiveness, I decided to go with Virgin and myclimate’s service. And I’ll probably use myclimate in future too (although there are other companies and not-for-profits that have Gold Standard-accredited projects as well).