Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Beep Test

By popular demand, today is a proper free-for-all Friday, and you are warmly invited to post your links for each others' edification and amusement. But first, a shout-out …

Yesterday, Damian and I interviewed Vinny Jeet, one of four members of Auckland University's Team One Beep, winners of the New Zealand section of this year's Microsoft Imagine Cup, an annual worldwide challenge for students to harness technology to address "the world’s toughest problems". The UN's Millennium Development Goals were offered as a guide to the kind of problems needing solutions.

Peter Griffin, one of the judges, has a post about the local finalists.

The idea starts here: There are presently 1.2 million low-cost OLPC laptops in use, and the One Laptop Per Child project has plans to deliver tens of millions to users in developing countries. But developing countries – particularly in Africa – often lack the pervasive mobile communications networks that could help add value to the OLPCs in the field. Say, by providing classroom materials.

But what even the most remote communities will probably have is an AM or FM radio. Team One Beep's idea – using conventional radio broadcast equipment to deliver data -- isn't without precedent on a technical level, but I don't believe anyone has crafted such a compelling application from the concept.

All that's required is an AM or FM radio receiver with a conventional earphone jack (they checked: pretty much every radio sold since the early 70s has one). A standard cable connects it to the OLPC (or Intel Classroom PC) and the data is delivered as audio (yep, like yer old modem handshake) to be converted to data by Team One Beep's software.

After a lot of work on error-correction and the like, they're at the point where a page of text takes about 20 seconds to transmit. This makes remote transmission of books viable over distances of as much as 200 kilometres.

The little laptops are themselves wi-fi-enabled, so you only need the teacher's OLPC to receive the data signal and the work can be shared locally.

Vinny struck me as a tremendously focused and thoughtful young man, and I'm sure the same is true of the rest of the team. The reason we were talking to him is that they're all off next week to the Imagine Cup world finals in Poland. They've already been tipped as contenders for the top prize, but in a way the more important thing is that after the contest the software will be open-sourced and field trials will be pursued in the Pacific and parts of Australia. Most of don't do anything that useful in our lives.

So while you're applauding the All Whites, spare a cheer too for these guys as they compete in Warsaw, July 3-7.

PS: You can hear the interview, along with chats with Jeffrey Wigand, and Bruce Macintosh of Auckland University's robotics department, plus Craig's verdict on the Russel Norman affair, from 7pm Sunday on Radio Live.


Some clips …

The New Zealand Maori team's dramatic (and really nicely shot) performance of the haka Timatanga before their match on Wednesday:

Mark II, the "Polynesian Easy Rider", one of three 80s New Zealand movies with a Maori and Polynesian resonance to be added (in full!) to NZ On Screen this week. The other two are Kingi's Story and Kingpin.):

Leo and I laughed a lot when we saw the video version of How Twilight Works, via The Oatmeal:

And hey, you might want to pop over to Amplifier, where, thanks to Simon Grigg, the groundbreaking 1994 release Proud: An Urban-Pacific Streetsoul Compilation has been digitally re-released. Of particular note: the Sisters Underground and Otara Millionaires' Club tracks.

Okay, get busy. If you want to post YouTube clips in comments, a reminder that you only need the URL of the clip, (including the http:// part), and not the whole embed code.

See you at The Turnaround …

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