Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy Geek New Year

The holidays are a time for gadgets - at least for us geeks. This year has been a good one for gadgets.

The theme, as it has been recently, is wireless. The wireless world just gets more interesting all the time.

The first cool new gadget I've discovered lately is called "EyeFi". It's an amazing bit of technology: an 802.11 tranceiver, with antenna, embedded in a tiny SD RAM memory chip (the size of a postage stamp).

The idea is that you stick it in your digital camera, and consequently don't have to physically connect the camera to anything in order to get the pictures out of it.

I ordered one of these about a month ago and it works surprisingly well. The EyeFi folks have also cleverly added integration with online photo-sharing sites, like Flickr and Picasa. That means that once set up, all you have to do is turn the camera on within range of an available "partnered" wireless network, and the photos automatically appear on the web site of your choice. It's really, really cool. Check out their web site here.

The next super-cool gadget to appear this holiday season is the EEE PC. I think I heard about this very recently released sub-notebook by googling "linux laptop". It's a tiny contraption, about the size of a paperback book, but it's a fully-functional laptop, with a 900 mhz Celeron processor and a solid-state hard drive (SSHD). It comes in 3 flavors - all with the same processor and either a 2Gb, 4Gb, or 8Gb solid state drive.

Check out the main EEE PC web site, then go to the rapidly growing "EEE User Forums" to learn a lot more about it.

The best thing I like about this little gadget was the price: $349 for the 4Gb version I ordered. The next best thing about it is the operating system: a hacked version of Xandros Linux.

Before I bought the EEE PC, I was reading about the "One Laptop Per Child" project, because I am very interested in super-low-cost portable computers. I was thinking about obtaining the OLPC "XO" laptop to evaluate, which involved donating one to a needy child, then being allowed to purchase the second one - for $198 each. I was disappointed in that deal, however, because the OLPC had originally been described as the "$100 laptop". (That program has ended, although I have a feeling they will be doing it again.) I like some of the features of the OLPC machine, and was very interested in it for $100. But there are some interesting stories floating around how the OLPC organization, and particularly Nicholas Negroponte, have been trying to use intimidation and FUD to force other low-cost laptop manufacturers (including Asus, who make the EEE PC and Intel, who has a very interesting and serious project called the "Classmate PC", out of the market. An this is from what is supposely a charitable, non-profit project, devoted to putting a laptop into the hands of every child in the world. All this kind of makes me think that if I obtain an OLPC machine, it will be without making a "charitable" donation to Nicholas Negroponte and his project.

Anyway, the EEE PC rocks, and handily outperforms the OLPC. It comes with a pretty clever version of Xandros Linux. I had never used Xandros before, but it seems sensible and solid. The interface is clearly designed for children and casual users, however, with big shiny buttons labeled "Learn" and "Play" and lots of toys and games. I wanted the machine primarily as a highly portable network administration and auditing tool, however, and luckily some pretty clever hackers had the same idea: the excellent Backtrack Linux 3.0 distribution was shipped with drivers for the EEE PC right before Christmas. It took a little hacking to get Backtrack 3.0 installed and happy on the EEE's SSHD, but once running, it outperforms the stock Xandros distro.

So - armed with my hot new tiny-pc and various dongles, cables, and gizmos, I set out to do some gratuitous wireless hardware development... more on that in the next post.


Sheila O'Malley said...

I've been dying to get that EyeFi thingie - it sounds so cool!

CW said...

Thanks for showing up Sheila! I'm going to try to get more "substance" going in the new blog. Also: I had a couple of friends who bought the Eye-Fi thingie, based on my glowing recommendations. One of them got a dud, and discovered that apparently these things have a pretty good failure rate. I am not surprised, because of the bleeding-edge technology they are cramming into such a tiny package.

MWT said...

Aha! Actual content! :)

I ordered one of the OLPC laptops. It hasn't arrived yet, but I'll probably end up doing a review on my own blog when it does.

My personal interest is more about on-the-fly writing and occasional wireless Internet access. I have an Alphasmart Dana for that at the moment, but think the OLPC laptop might be a step up from that (while at the same time being a step down in cost).