Around two months ago I proposed, in these pages, a $50 e-book reader for distribution to OLPC's (and Nicholas Negroponte's) original target population, the poor of the World who have neither shoes no electricity and for whom 'school' is a scarce and sporadic luxury.
You can go back to my original article to see why I, and now others (including many of you, perhaps) feel that OLPC has lost its way in a street-market of fairly nice, fairly cheap laptops for nice, tidy Asian classrooms. It's enough to note that such is the case.
After my first proposal back then, though, I have been concerned in case it might appear that -- as we say in sunny England -- I am 'all mouth and no trousers'. So, if you will allow me, may I here present an update on where the Illumination Book Reader has got to?
In the past two months, then, I have designed both its interior and exterior, several pictures of which are shown here. It is, as you see, very simple in concept and appearance, with Mary Lou Jepsen's screen on its front, along with four buttons placed so that they are neatly accessible by your thumbs when you are holding the Reader exactly as you would hold a paperback book.
The buttons at either side of the screen -- whichever way up the latter is orientated, I should add -- are used to turn one page forward or back. The button at the foot takes you to the contents list (and any other menus which the book may need, such as an index) and the top one is an on-off switch.
The pages themselves, as you can see, are in colour or black-and-white and can contain text in any language or font size. I've included one 'plain text' page -- it's from a short story of mine -- purely to show that in this mode (novel, textbook, article) a page will hold around twenty-five lines and (say) 250 words.
Again, this is pretty much like a paperback. As shown here and in a CAD picture, the text itself doubtless appears too small to be readable, but I have tested it upon a group of several elderly ladies whose most frequent (and gratifying) comment has been "It's lovely, I can read it without my glasses . . ."
On one side of the Reader are two 'slots'. Each is for inserting an e-book --- or, rather, and entire library of up to a thousand e-books, since Illumination's own proprietary format holds around 300 pages of text and illustrations in around a megabyte. The wide slot is for a current RAM card; the square hole will be (later) for the I-Reader's own RAM 'sticks' which will hold the same amount of reading material as the card but will be less breakable.
I envisage that, as can be done with current USB RAM sticks, you will in the Western world keep several of these on your key-ring; when you buy your morning newspaper and magazines -- or a book -- for reading on the train, you will simply plug one of them into a socket at the newsagent's counter.
The third, round socket is the (auxiliary) power input for charging the Reader's batteries. It's 'auxiliary' because, for our fifty dollars' manufacturing cost, we will also get the only piece of the I-Reader not shown here, namely its lid, which will include its main power unit, a solar panel.
This, (always assuming I have got my calculations roughly right) will yield around four and a half watt-hours per day, against which the mean power consumption of the Reader itself should be less than half a watt.
Nicholas Negroponte's team is shooting for 2 Watts for the XO and is in fact now running at around 9 Watts, so I gather. I am shooting for a mean of 0.2 Watts, or ten times less, but Murphy's Law tells us we won't get down that low for a while.
All right. May I leave more technical details for the Reader until another article? This has been just an introduction, because I wanted to show that I haven't been sitting on my thumbs, and because it's always nice to see a few pictures. Right now, I shall be very interested to read all initial comments and criticisms you may offer, and I will also try to put together answers to any questions you may have.
Assuming this machine is a runner -- and I will listen carefully to your views on this, even if I happen to think she's a little beauty -- well, look, she had better get built and distributed, together with a whole lot of books of evey conceivable kind and for every age, to those millions of children in the Third World who were originally supposed to benefit from the XO, the Classmate, the Eeee or whatever? Yes?
This is the bit, of course, that I can't do for myself. Creative, yes, I can do creative okay, and technical I can take a shot at, but business sense or knowledge? I have zippo. Zilch
I am an eccentric, not to say bloody-minded, old bastard on a hilltop in Surrey. I've designed the hardware and software by myself, and I have a younger business partner, not to mention a bright bloke a few miles away who can cobble together a prototype. But, in the absence of funding, that is where we shall be stuck.
And I have to tell you that I have so far received zero interest, let alone support, from any organisation with a few million bucks to invest in Third World education. That includes, I am sorry to have to tell you, OLPC itself, whom I first approached in March and from whom -- and only after much prodding from myself -- I have received merely a short and dismissive reply.
Well, it's a tough old world, of course, and big bucks are big bucks, and all that stuff. But I still think it's a bit sad. On the other hand, maybe OLPC reads OLPC News? Let's see.
Because in any case, I did mention the term 'bloody-minded', didn't I? Along with 'old' (I'm seventy- five next month if anyone feels like sending me a birthday card for August 29th). And, believe me, I am -- maybe we are -- going to get this thing built and launched, one way or another.
Bet on it. The fifty-dollar Reader is coming at ya, boys, and that means 'fifty dollars and no extras, and falling downwards as volumes increase', not kind of drifting up surrounded by press releases..