Internet access here is kind of tricky, in that it either costs $5 an hour from our hotel, or occasionally works for free thanks to the kind soul in a nearby apartment with an unsecured wifi access point. Because of both the spotty connectivity and the fact that this kind soul is paying for metered access, I've opted to not upload the pictures I've taken thus far. I think Tuesday we move from our downtown Sydney hotel to a much nicer one on the beach, courtesy of D's new employers. I'm led to believe that wifi at the nicer hotel will be of a more "unlimited" nature, which hopefully should allow for better access then. The Internet withdrawal is actually worse than the jetlag was. We are apparently pretty hard-core connectivity addicts.
I've spent too much time and money over the last two days trying to get my iPhone up and connected to both the phone network and the data network, all of which has been entirely fruitless thus far. It SHOULD work, though, so I suspect that something got botched when I unlocked it. On the plus side, the really nice guy at Telstra broke the rules and gave me a returned Nokia and charger so that I could use the pre-paid SIM for which I had already paid, activated, and funded with enough money to get me data access for my entire stay. I'm incredibly indebted to this fine young man because I would have either wasted the heaps of money I had already spent, or had to waste heaps more buying a phone in order to not feel like I had wasted it.
We spent most of the day yesterday playing tourists, spending heaps of cash on the Sydney Aquarium and the Sydney Animal World. (Or something like that; I' a bit sketchy on the name, and I can't look it up from here.) The aquarium had some really impressive habitats filled with the largest fish I had ever seen. I tried again and again to capture them with my camera, but they always came out looking like just fish; the enormous magesty of them was completely lost, so I ultimately gave up. I didn't get many good pics of fish but I did get some good surrepticious shots of people and kids looking at them. At the animal park there were wallabies (no hoofs), wombats, koalas and a veritable cornucopia of rodents that this rodent-lover would love to be able to smuggle home. Practically every exhibit we came to drew a 'ooh, let's get some of THOSE' from one or both of us. One of the advertised perks of the place was that you could pet a koala, but as it turns out, it cost extra to do so, so D opted not to pet one. (Though tomorrow we are going to the Torranga(?) Zoo, where one of the advertised perks is being able to pet a koala, so I guess we'll see.)
Speaking of costing extra: Sydney is bloody expensive. The exchange rate now between American dollars and Australian dollars is now pretty close to negligible, easing the mental calculations before purchases -- but straining our wallets. Depending upon where you are, a small bottled soft drink ranges from $4-$6. Last night I popped down to a nearby convenience store, leaving with two quart-size bottles of water, two small bottles of juice, six twenty-oz-size soft drinks, and two Girl-Scout-Cookie-box-sized packs of biscuits, totalling (apparently 'totalling' has two 'l's here) $46.50. Taking into account both the 'package deal' and D's student discount, our entry fees into both the aqaurium and the animal place was over $80 a person. Youch.
To my eternal shame, we've been playing the stereotypical Americans, eating an alarming percentage of our food from the nearby McDonald's and Hungry Jack's franchises. In my defense, it's (relatively) cheap, only one of us is currently bringing in money, and the fast food here is (thus far, anyway) way better than in the states. 'Hungry Jack' is what they call Burger King here, which makes me wonder whether Jack in the Box is going to say 'screw the disdain for monarchy' and co-opt the 'King' name since Burger King already took 'Jack.' This morning I had an 'Aussie Breky' from Hungry Jack, which is, essentially, a Sausage Biscuit with Egg, except disassembled and with an extra egg. The flavor of the sausage startled me a mite bit; it's not the familiar maple-y 'breakfast sausage' flavor to which I'm accustomed. It was, instead, a bit like salisbury steak. And very delicious. (They do have Sausage Biscuits with Egg, but I wanted to say 'Aussie Breky.')
After wandering through the aquarium for awhile, we were amused to realize that we were both reading all the information displays in our heads with Aussie accents. This, combined with the fact that I'm not really noticing any Aussie accents anymore, has me worried that I'm walking around doing a bad Crocodile Hunter impression. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm even more worried. I was just asked for directions by a couple of cute Japanese touristas who looked incredulous when I told them that I don't actually know how to get them where they're going, and that I'm not actually from here. I would really like to be, though.
11:45 am, Sunday:
Just had a 10-minute conversation with an American couple enthralled by my OLPC. I'm pretty good at giving people the sales spiel now, which is unfortunate since the only place they can be acquired is eBay. I think they would have done well to have some in the wild before ending the Give One Get One promotion, because the number of people that see mine in action and want to get one for their kids is staggering. Anyway, I better go back to my hotel and see whether I can get online and post this. I've spent the last hour sitting at the Australian version of Starbucks, called 'Gloria Jean's Coffees' ("Escape the daily grind.™"), which I'd feel kind of silly about if it weren't across the street from an Actual Starbucks. Bloody Americans, always expanding, trying to take over the whole world...
Few things have excited me as much recently as that of the OLPC project. Since last we talked about it, I've donated another to the efforts. This means that I'll have two of them to play with, which I figure is essential to seeing how the mesh networking functions. I also figure that when the nerds begin doing really awesome things with them, people who are kicking themselves for not having the foresight to have gotten in on the ground floor may suddenly be willing to pay considerably more for them than those of use who donated did. This, of course, comes after the joy of knowing that I've helped two kids get one.
Before I get into trying again to explain just how awesome the project is -- despite all the negative attention the press, Intel, Microsoft, John Dvorak, and Digg commenters have been lavishing upon it -- I've a couple links for you.
First up, from the BBC: A child's view of the $100 laptop. In that story a virtually computer-illiterate 9-year-old in the UK gets his hands on an OLPC and talks about all the things he was able to do with it WITHOUT HELP from an adult. And how fun and creativity-inspiring it is, despite the abundance of video gaming systems he owns. Now imagine a 9-year-old kid who has never had an electronic device before, and now suddenly has one that can help bolster creativity in many, many ways. Remember how cool it was when you first exchanged instant messages with people from all over the world via your computer? Now imagine being able to do that from your bug-laden tent, and being able to get skills and contacts that might be able to get you out of the dirt into a job in a more technological world at some point in the future. I just don't see how people can bad-mouth the amazing thing the OLPC people are doing.
Next: for those of you that've donated to the project and are anxiously awaiting the shipment of yours, I learned that the OLPC is maintaining a delivery estimate on their site without prominently linking to it. Click on over to Give One Get One Shipping Information to see when you can expect to get yours. (My first one is in batch two; my second is in batch 3.)
On to my excitement. Remember in Orson Scott Card's novel "Ender's Game," the futuristic space-school where the students' textbooks and assignments were all on digital tablet-thingies, with which they could communicate amongst their peers via text chat and email whilst working on said assignments from their living areas? And how they could play learning games to help them unlock what's inside themselves while having fun? I would have killed to have something like that when I was in grade school and actively wished for such a thing a little later in life. Now, thanks to the work of many individuals who came together under the OLPC initiative, kids in some of the worst parts of the world are going to have EXACTLY THAT -- minus the zero-gravity and attacking aliens, natch.
If you want to help one of these kids have something nice in their otherwise unpleasant-seeming (to this westerner, anyway) life, you can still donate to the project over at laptopgiving.org. If you donate before December 31st, you'll be able to get one yourself. This helps in two ways: the Give One portion puts one of these laptops into a kids hands, while the Get One part helps increase the production quantities. This helps makes things easier and cheaper for the manufacturer, which means it's good for everyone involved. $200 of the $399 cost is tax-deductable (here in America, anyway), and I'm confident that post-Dec. 31st you'll be able to recoup the rest by selling it to some other nerd -- assuming, of course, that you won't find a tiny, low-power, uber-portable eBook reader/word processor/email/drawing/web-surfing machine useful yourself. (If you're outside of America, you will require a US postal address to get one. If you're otherwise interested in participating but don't have such an address, drop me a line and I bet we could work something out.)
I've been following the One Laptop Per Child project for a couple years now, and have anxiously awaited the day I'd be able to own one myself. A couple of days ago they started taking orders for their Give One Get One promotion, wherein you can spend $399 to get an OLPC computer for yourself, one for a child in a developing country, and also year's worth of T-Mobile HotSpot WiFi usage to boot. (The latter is a $350 value in and of itself.) Also, $199 of the total cost is tax-deductable, seeing's how you spent it to help fund a non-profit.
Aside from the coolness of having a tiny, rugged, green, Linux PC that uses 1/10th the energy consumption of an ordinary laptop, it also serves as a WiFi router and its swivel screen allows it to be configured as a laptop, an eBook reader, or a hand-held gaming system. It also has a built-in camera and microphone, and a huge multi-use touchpad that allows you to not only move the mouse cursor, but also draw and write as well.
The user interface on it has been designed from the ground up to be intuitively operated by those with zero computer experience, and it comes with software to do all sorts of fun things that I'd have killed to be able to do as a child. Animation, video editing, web browsing, creative writing, drawing, games, etc. All of the included apps are written in Python, and there's even a dedicated keyboard key to display (and edit) the source code of any currently running program. (How cool is that?) There are a bunch more applications currently in development specifically for the OLPC system, but I don't see why you couldn't run any old Linux/X11/GTK apps on it with very minimal hassle.
If, like me, you want to do something to help make the world a better place -- and are also an insufferable nerd who feels compelled to own gadgets and make them do things which they mightn't have been entirely intended -- the "Give One Get One" deal is a pretty darn good choice. Orders can be placed until November 26th.