Supercomputer built from Raspberry Pis and Lego

Brilliant, inexpensive technology:

Supercomputer built from Raspberry Pis and Lego

A team of computer scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK created a supercomputer out of 64 Raspberry Pi matchbox Linux-on-a-chip computers and Lego. The team included six year old James Cox, the son of project lead Professor Simon Cox, “who provided specialist support on Lego and system testing.”

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A $25 Handheld Computer for Education

Raspberry Pi is a new credit card-sized computer designed specifically to teach computer programming to students. The device is the brainchild of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a U.K. charity that “exists to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level” and wants “to put the fun back into learning computing.” The device is set to make its debut in December and will cost a mere $25 each.

Via Good

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Paper-Thin Batteries

Most batteries require some amount of bulk, making them impractical for use in flexible and lightweight objects. But a team of materials scientists at Stanford have succeeded in creating a paper-thin battery that could be the answer to all of those nagging problems and finally usher in the era of e-paper, powered packaging and electronic newspapers.

The battery is made up of a series of tubes – carbon nanotubes, to be exact. A solid support structure was coated with carbon nanotubes and then the nanotube layer was covered with a layer of lithium compound. The resulting double-layer film was put onto both sides of a piece of paper, resulting in a 30 micron-thick battery that is ultra flexible and more effective than other thin batteries. In trials, the almost-paper-thin battery didn’t degrade in performance even after 300 recharging cycles. The fact that the batteries use regular paper and simple fabrication techniques means that it is possible to put them into almost everything – “smart” packaging could be coming sooner than most of us would like to imagine.

via Thinking Thin: Paper-Thin Batteries Usher in e-Paper Era « Gajitz and kickerstudio

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Smartphones Begin to Replace Hotel Keycards

Two Holiday Inn hotels have begun using iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones as room keys, meaning guests don’t even need to stop at the front desk on their way in the door.

With the new system, which will be in testing through December, hotel guests can reserve their accommodations online. A text message is sent to their phone on the day they reserved with a room number and a link to unlock the door.

via Smartphones Begin to Replace Hotel Keycards.

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“Fair Trade” Electronics

From Foxconn Suicides: Is It Time For “Fair Trade” Electronics? Would You Buy A “Fair Trade” iPhone? by Tom Foremski

All the large tech companies such as Apple, Nokia, Dell, etc have agreements with their suppliers that they do not employ children, and that they will abide by certain standards to protect workers. But it’s not clear how these are monitored, enforced, or how much in common they share across the electronics industry.

What is common across the electronics industry is a relentless focus on reducing manufacturing costs, and the largest manufacturing cost is labor; which is why employees are pushed to work faster, while maintaining high quality work, and at the lowest wages acceptable.

We reap the benefits in the form of cheap digital gadgets, gizmos, and computers. We have absolutely no idea about all the blood, sweat, and human suffering that went into creating our digital devices.

I’ve been following the Foxconn issue since it came to light and find it extremely troubling. Like many others in the tech industry, I would welcome a global solution to ensuring human rights and humane conditions for all workers creating consumer electronics. Much like the fashion industry had to be held accountable for their manufacturing practices, so should the tech/electronics industry.

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The iPad Arrives

As I’m sure you know, tech and geek news has been buzzing for weeks about the arrival of the iPad and today was the day for pre-orders to arrive by UPS and for in-store purchasing. We went by the Apple Store on Stockton Street here in SF this afternoon and saw Jonathan Ive as he was about to cross the street. There was still a line out front, but it moved really quickly. There were tons of people in the store and upstairs they were already giving demos and classes about the iPad. Now I’m home and about to plug it in and sync up the apps I downloaded last night. So excited to use the interface and test some apps. More to come on that…

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Snow Leopard: Smaller, Faster, Better

The Apple and tech blogs have been buzzing with this week’s early arrival of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, available this Friday, August 28, 2009. We’ve already pre-ordered our family pack upgrade. If you haven’t yet, it’s worth the upgrade at only $29 for an individual (or $25 at Amazon; $43.99 for the family pack upgrade at Amazon). Why? David Pogue covers this in his review today.

Either way, the big story here isn’t really Snow Leopard. It’s the radical concept of a software update that’s smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint.

Via David Pogue’s State of the Art – A Leap Forward With Snow Leopard –

Update Aug 28: If you’re unsure whether your software will be compatible with the upgrade, check here.

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Augmented Reality Slowly Becoming a Reality

While it’s probably some time before Augmented Reality (AR) is part of everyday practice, it’s good to see that some applications are coming to fruition.  Today, Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb posted that Metro Paris Subway (iTunes link), a French app from PresseLite has appeared in the iTunes store.  A commenter on Marshall’s post, Tim, speculates that Apple will take the app down because “there’s a Chromeless image picker the iPhoneARKit guys used that made it possible to do image overlays in 3.0, but it was rumored Apple was rejecting the majority of the apps that used it.”


There are already several AR apps for Android phones as well as other demos for iPhone. ReadWriteWeb wrote yesterday about five key obstacles that Augmented Reality faces in becoming mainstream.

There’s also work in this area being done by Pattie Maes from MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group.  See my post from February, Our Sixth Sense: Wearable Fluid Interfaces.

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gdgt party

After working with founders Ryan Block and Peter Rojas on the design of gdgt many months ago, it was great to go to the first SF party to celebrate the idea becoming reality.

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Our Sixth Sense: Wearable Fluid Interfaces

This week at the TED conference, Pattie Maes from MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group showcased the latest work of her students, “a wearable computing system that turns any surface into an interactive display screen. The wearer can summon virtual gadgets and internet data at will, then dispel them like smoke when they’re done.”

Pattie Maes of the lab’s Fluid Interfaces group said the research is aimed at creating a new digital “sixth sense” for humans.

In the tactile world, we use our five senses to take in information about our environment and respond to it, Maes explained. But a lot of the information that helps us understand and respond to the world doesn’t come from these senses. Instead, it comes from computers and the internet. Maes’ goal is to harness computers to feed us information in an organic fashion, like our existing senses.

The prototype was built from an ordinary webcam and a battery-powered 3M projector, with an attached mirror — all connected to an internet-enabled mobile phone. The setup, which costs less than $350, allows the user to project information from the phone onto any surface — walls, the body of another person or even your hand.

Maes showed a video of her student Pranav Mistry who she describes as the brains behind the project. Mistry wore the device on a lanyard around his neck, and colored Magic Marker caps on four fingers (red, blue, green and yellow) helped the camera distinguish the four fingers and recognize his hand gestures with software that Mistry created.

The gestures can be as simple as using his fingers and thumbs to create a picture frame that tells the camera to snap a photo, which is saved to his mobile phone. When he gets back to an office, he projects the images onto a wall and begins to size them.

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QuadCamera: Continuous Shooting With your iPhone Camera

QuadCamera is the the 4th release by Art&Mobile of their ToyCamera series and features continuous shooting. Just press the button, and it takes 4-8 serial shots to create one image in multiple dimensions and repetitions: a 4×2 portrait, 4×1, 2×2 landscape, and 8×1 landscape (as shown below). This is great for fast action and motion shots, as well as static images and creative portraits.


Me in 8 autoshots

The app is available for $1.99 in the iTunes app store.

See below for a demo from their site:

As I’ve mentioned before, I love taking photos with my iPhone, partly because of the low-res 2 megapixel quality, and mostly because it offers a different type of photograph. Every device has its own quality and exploring these has always been one of my hobbies, from Lomo cameras, to Polaroids (miss them) to my old Nintendo Game Boy camera and sticker printer. With the iPhone, the ability to add features and effects with apps makes it all the more enjoyable.

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Adobe Max

It was great to see Simone Legno (aka Tokidoki) speak about his work and process. That’s his laptop shown above.

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Web 2.0 Summit

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WordCamp 2008

WordCamp is a one day event organized by the creators of WordPress for users and developers. This year’s event was held on Saturday at Mission Bay Conference center and featured talks by a range of people. In his “State of the Word” address, Matt Mulllenweg mentioned this was the largest ever WordCamp with over 400 people attending. You can see a selection of photos from the event at Matt’s post, including mine (also below). There’s also a good live recap of the event by Andrew Mager.

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