Monday, March 24, 2008

Plans for Municipal Wifi Networks Falter

Distressing news about municipal wifi and how plans to roll out free or low-cost wifi to large communities across the U.S. are failing as ISPs pull out of the non-money making venture.

It seems to me that the largest issue facing such an ambitious plan as blanketing a large area with wireless broadband coverage, be it urban, suburban, or rural is the need to someone to set up the infrastructure, or wireless access points, in order for such a community to have total coverage. Since the monetary incentive does not exist for companies to provide this service, and costs and return on investment makes it difficult for city governments to step in and build the infrastructure, there must be a different way to solve this issue.

I believe a system like that used by the One Laptop Per Child's XO laptop, with built-in Wifi wireless mesh networking capabilities, might provide a working solution to connecting disparate and geographically isolated individuals to the internet. The OLPC page has a great graphic demonstration of how such a mesh network operates. Instead of requiring many wireless access points, the OLPC project is built around the assumption that there might be only 1 access point per 100 laptop units and still provide connectivity to all the clients. In fact, the XO laptop can still serve as a wireless peer even if the CPU is powered off.

Perhaps if we shift our thinking from having a municipality or corporation provide the access points and instead reconsider the way wireless networking can be utilized we might be able to better serve lower income individuals who are at a disadvantage in terms of access to the Internet and information we might be able to better solve this issue. Peer-to-peer mesh networking might have advantages to the way we currently look at wireless communities, and might go far in stepping in to meet this important need.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chess in the Classroom

Idaho is piloting a unique program where its 40,000 second and third graders learn the game of chess as part of curriculum enhancement that includes vocabulary, math, and history. The curriculum was designed by Seattle-based America's Foundation for Chess, a non-profit organization that promotes teaching chess in schools.

Chess is taught to students by their classroom teachers, many of whom have never played chess before. The teachers are trained in a seminar before the start of school, are provided with an instructional DVD and DVD player, chess sets and boards, and a manual. Most importantly, they are also given a collection of online resources and access, again oftentimes online since there are many rural communities in Idaho, to an experienced chess player.

The program is beneficial to students who spend much of their time plugged into electronic devices and insular. Chess also teaches students how to think and plan ahead, a skill that departs from traditional rote memorization. Additionally, students with whom English is not a first language benefit from the connections that occur at the chess board.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Homebrew Computer Club 3D Walk-Through

David Schmenk, the genius behind Homebrew Computer Club, a 3D twitch game for the Apple II series of computers. This is pretty amazing, running at 20 fps on a 1 MHz machine, as Mr. Schmenk demonstrates in his clever YouTube HBCC 3D Walk-Through.

I actually downloaded this game and transferred it to my Apple IIgs. It took some serious work (I'm no gamer) but I managed to get Woz out of the basement and into the outside world with his Apple II! What an awesome game!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Super Mario Shadow Box

Meg was on a Tetris jag on the Game Boy Advanced yesterday so I tried to get a game going on the Game Boy Marco gave me. Unfortunately this one had the "bars of death" on the display and wouldn't function properly. So I took it apart, stripped the guts out, and assembled a shadow box made from a Game Boy and Reverend Timothy's papercraft. I scaled the paper model down to 82% so it would fit inside the frame of the Nintendo screen and printed the three pages 4-up. Additionally, the ground area needed to be scaled down to one block wide so it would all fit behind the screen. I scaled the template to 84% and traced the back panel onto a piece of posterboard, into which I mounted the paper scene. It turned out pretty cool and was a great re-use of the retro-nerdy Nintendo Game Boy body.

P.S.: I made the Makezine Blog!