My tiny adorable flowered computer!

I got an HP Mini Vivienne Tam edition to review a few days ago, and I’ve used it so far for blogging, surfing, email, IM-ing, and writing up my thoughts in Notepad. Here’s my preliminary review based on four days of casual but heavy use.

This is a good computer for a blogger or a student who doesn’t need a huge screen or massive computing power. Also it’s incredibly cute.

Here’s some praise!

I’m a demanding blogger. I type 100 words a minute and I like to have about 50 tabs open. This HP Mini was incredibly easy for me to slip into using. I blogged from it without noticing the slightly smaller keyboard; I could type just as fast as I usually do. The size, key placement, action, and feel of the keys are all just great. If you’ve tried a mini before, but had trouble getting used to the keyboard, you may be pleased with a Mini.

The screen is big and very readable! It’s tiny and very light.

I like the way the case opens and shuts. The shell is hard plastic – not fabric or gelskin covered.

It has two USB ports, which seems quite nice.

I’m happy with a 60GB hard drive in such a tiny, light computer.

The wireless mouse works well.

Everything I wanted out of my Asus EeePC, but sadly never quite got, has come true in this adorable netbook!

Here’s my wishlist.

I fervently wish for holes in the case where I could attach straps. Two holes near the hinge would be ideal, so that I could put a shoulder strap on this beastie. At She’s Geeky conference this weekend, how many women did I just watch, walking around the room holding a computer, a paper notepad, a pen, a purse, and a latte? Around the house, it would be all that plus a book and a baby and 6 things you’ve picked up from the living room to move to the office. Computers need handles. But beyond the OLPC or old clamshell iMac handles that require a hand. Shoulder strap power!

Backlit keys would make me *very* happy. I’m often typing in bed or in a darkened room, in work meetings or conferences. It’s lovely if I can see the keys, but keep the screen relatively dim.

Neutral thoughts

* Mostly, I use MacOS X or Linux. So this is the first time I’ve used Windows. While I’m not especially impressed with Windows XP, I’m also not especially annoyed. So for a week or two, I’m going to stick with XP to give it a fair shake.

* I haven’t tried doing any development on this machine yet, but I think that will go quite well.

* I haven’t tested battery life. So far, it hasn’t been a problem, but I haven’t approached it systematically.

* I haven’t tried the webcam yet. It has a built in camera! I will take it through some video chat paces.

* I haven’t tried installing any games or a Second Life client on it. I’ll let you all know how that goes. I figure, I don’t play a ton of games, but if Second Life behaves well, then I can stand by my recommendation the computer for the writer and student who’s also a casual gamer.

My criticisms of the HP Mini are minor.

* The computer goes to sleep a bit too quickly when I half-close the lid. I’m often blogging or emailing or IM-ing in social or work situations, or doing actual work with private information in a cafe, and if someone comes up to talk with me, I need to half-close the computer so they can’t shoulder-surf. While the Mini wakes up very quickly, I wish it didn’t go to sleep until I *actually shut the lid*.

* The bumps on the f and j keys are too subtle for me to feel them easily. I could type with more confidence with better subliminal feedback about the “home” keys.

* The hinge on the case could open a little more widely. It goes past 90 degrees, but not quite far enough. I type in my lap, not on a desk. This is partly habit I’m sure, but I wonder if it’s at all a gender related habit, as chairs, desks, and tables often don’t match up for me, because I’m shorter than the default person (male) they’re designed for? Because the computer’s in my lap, and the resulting viewing angle, I sometimes need to tilt the screen further back than 100 degrees. Now, this is also true when I have my HP Mini in bed. Which I often do.

AND NOW FOR THE ADORABLENESS

This computer is cute. It’s pretty. But it doesn’t make me hurl with the pinkitude. Really!

It’s a really nice color of deep red, with black around the screen. There’s nothing ugly and clunky about this computer. It’s totally elegant. I take it out of my bag, and everyone admires it, and whatever one might think about HP’s targeting of women or the cut of the marketing, women everywhere I go are exclaiming with delight at how cute this computer is. It is very much OMG I WANT THAT. Then, because I’m this sort of person, I hand them the computer and invite them to type something and take it through its internet browser paces. In fact, it’s been really fun to have people come up and talk to me and be so friendly, because they’re curious about my computer.

For quite some time I’ve been asking the world for an adorable computer that is small and light, yet still a useful computer. (Oh, how I miss my 12 inch MacBook, but how I wished it were *even smaller*.) While I have issues as a feminist with everything being pink especially like, pink tools and pink computers, (see girl geek bingo), I also have mixed feelings and like things that are pretty and cute. It’s better if they’re pretty, cute, and punk rock, and actually work.

This is my usual style (me and my sister, with 13-inch MacBooks covered in stickers)

And here I am with the Vivienne Tam,

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This gets across how tiny and handy it is. See how it likes to sit on top of my MacBook?! It’s like a cute little ladybug!

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The Internet is srs bzns and so am I, in black boys’ guayabera, SF State tshirt, cotton handkerchief with red stitching, and matching computer,

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The Vivienne Tam and its matching mouse want to wear my Fluevog boots:

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If it had a hat, it would have a beret. If it were a color of nail polish, it would be “I’m Not Really a Waitress” red. Yes. I have middle class brand awareness. I cannot help it. When I wasn’t playing video games, I grew up in a mall. It seeps into your blood.

Even the packaging was nice! It was like buying a computer at Sephora. Or Bloomingdale’s or something. I know it’s shallow, and obviously I care WAY more about the specs and usability of a computer than the box it comes in, but I noticed the box anyway. Check this out:

exciting box

tiny pink computer!

At the She’s Geeky / Women 2.0 Dinner, I ended up passing the computer around almost as much as I got to use it myself. And when I whipped it out of my backpack to show to my friend Beth aka Techmama, she yelped and pulled out her own! We were like, “Oh no, same dress at the prom!” We managed to share the cuteness!

I can heartily recommend this computer if you’re a blogger, writer, or you just want your own laptop instead of using a shared family computer. The 60 GB hard drive is big and fast enough to deal with the *ton* of photos, Flip videos, and music that I tend to accumulate as a blogger. The wireless also works very well so the machine lives up to its promise of portability.

ALSO, IT IS REALLY CUTE. Did I mention that!?

I have three matching wireless mice to give away. Red mice with lavender flowers and silver sides. Who wants them?

* Buy it from HP: HP Mini Vivienne Tam (“Buy it” link gives all the specs)
* Buy it from Amazon:HP Mini 1140NR 10.2-Inch Netbook – Vivienne Tam Edition (1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor, 1 GB RAM, 60 GB Hard Drive, XP Home, 3 Cell Battery)

Related posts:

HP Magic Giveaway – Guidelines!

This week, I’ll be running a promotion and giveaway for $6000 worth of HP computers and other software and hardware. I’ll give away the entire package to one person who enters my contest.

I love, love, love the idea of being a Magic Internet Fairy, pouring out an amazing abundance of computers, more than anyone could ever need! It’s a gift that, by being too big, inspires generosity.

I want YOU…. my creative, intelligent, beautiful reader… to have a shiny new computer or laptop of your own, for the holidays!

And I want YOU to overflow with computers, like a geektastic goddess, making other people happy, people who also dream of having the Internet at their fingertips!

Keep one of these sleek, fast, powerful beasts for yourself… and then share the magic. Give the rest away!

I thought about “magic” and what my computer means to me. It lets me express all the million layers of my ideas and creativity, and helps me put that into the world directly. Because I do that, I can connect directly with other people and their ideas. The magic for me in this contest is in spreading that empowerment and connection. Who could I make the happiest? Who would put something unique and interesting into the world, given the right tools?

50 sites, listed here on http://hp.com/go/winhpmagic, are EACH offering a chance to win a complete package consisting of three HP computers plus a mini notebook, an HP MediaSmart Media Center extender, a Photosmart printer (and a huge pack of photo paper) plus a ton of software, and a BluRay DVD. There will be some U.S. IRS tax offset compensation, where applicable.

The winner of each site’s contest gets it all. Each site will have their own contest with different rules and you CAN enter all of them.

To enter the HP Magic Giveaway on my blog, Composite: Thoughts on Poetics and Tech, please do these three things:

1) Comment intelligently on any post on this blog!

A) Respond to a post. Pick something that interests you: feminism? disability rights? programming? Gadgets? Maybe a specific poet, one of the poems from my Anthology?

Tell me what you think of what I wrote.

I’m impressed if you are smart, engaged, un-boring, and being real! Make me laugh! Make me think!

B) Tell me briefly, in 3 sentences or less, how you would “Share the Magic” – what would you do with the prize? Who will you give the extra computers to? Please use links if applicable.

C) In your comment, include a link back to your own blog, or some other place on the net.

2) Post a link to that post and your comment, somewhere public on the Internet; on your blog, your MySpace or Facebook, your Twitter account, a bulletin board; anywhere you hang out.

3) Email me at compositehpmagic@gmail.com. Tell me:
* the link to your comment in #1
* the link to your post in #2

I won’t include anyone as a finalist who I know in real life, and obviously, not my co-workers or family members.

I will be the sole judge and my decision is final.

By entering, the winner agrees to provide me, within two weeks of receipt of the prize, at least a 500 word postable story on what happened when they gifted the extra computers. Pictures optional, but would be great to have along with permission to post. I won’t post names or any other information without your permission.

For me, the “Magic” in this contest will be the list of finalists; the people who I think are especially interesting and creative! Someone will get a bunch of computers — and maybe I’ll get a new blogroll!

one laptop per octopus

Premio de la Magia Hewlett-Packard (HP Magic Giveaway)

Esta semana, empezaré una promoción y premiaré computadoras HP y otro software y equipo con un valor de US$ 6000. Daré el paquete entero a una persona que participe en mi concurso.

Amo, amo y amo más la idea de ser una Hada Mágica de la Internet donando una abundancia increible de computadoras, mas que nadie pudiera necesitar! Es un regalo, que por ser tan grande, inspira generosidad.

Quiero que USTED….mi creadora, inteligente y bella lectora…. tenga una flamante computadora de oficina o una portátil para la Navidad.

Y quiero que USTED tenga una abundancia de computadoras y, como una diosa cheverissma de la computación, haga feliz a otros, personas que tambien suenan con tener la internet disponible al punto de los dedos. Quédese usted mismo con uno de estos lustrosos, rapidos y poderosos aparatos…..y luego comparta la magia. Regale lo restante!

Mientras escribía las reglas para este concurso, pensaba en “magia” y lo que me significa mi computadora. Me da una herramienta para creativa productividad, lo que valgo muchíssimo. Mi computadora me permita expresar un million de niveles de mis ideas y creatividad, y me ayuda transmitir todo esto directamente al mundo. Haciendo eso, puedo conectarme directamente con otros y sus ideas. Para mi, la magia de este concurso es en esparcir ese apoderarmiento, productividad y capacidad de conexión. Quien pudiera hacer lo mas feliz? Quien daría algo unico y interesante al mundo si tuviera las herramientas adecuadas?

Cincuenta sitios, dados aqui en http://hp.com/go/winhpmagic, ofrecen la oportunidad de ganar un paquete completo que consiste en tres computadoras HP, una mini-portatil, una extensora HP MediaSmart Media Center, una impresora Photosmart (y un paquete grande de papel fotográfico) y un montón de software de Microsoft y otros, y un BlueRay DVD. En caso de haber un impuesto sobre la renta en los Estados Unidos, habrâ un ajuste compensatorio. La ganadora del concurso en cada sitio lo gana todo. Cada sitio tendra su propio concurso con distintas reglas y si se PUEDE entrar en todos.

Para entrar en el HP Magic Giveaway en mi blog, Composite: Thoughts and Poetics and Tech, favor hacer las tres cosas siquientes:

1) Comente inteligentemente sobre cualquier mensaje en este blog!

A) Responde a un mensaje. Escoja algo que le interesa: feminismo?, derechos de los personas con disabilidades?, programación,? aparatos nuevos? Tal vez una poeta especifica o uno de los poemas de mi antología? Dígame lo que piensa de lo que escribí. Me impresionaré si usted es inteligente, sintonizada, interesante y genuina. Hagame reir! Haga me pensar!

B) Digame brevemente, en tres frases o menos, como “Compartiría la Magia”-que haría con el premio? A quien regalaría las computadoras sobrantes? Por favor, utilice links donde sea aplicable.

C) En su comentario, incluya un link a su propio blog u otro sitio en la red.
2) Coloque un link a su post y su comentario en un sitio público de la Internet como su blog, Myspace o Facebook, su cuenta Twitter, un boletín,: cualquier lugar en la red que frecuente.

3) Envieme por email a…….
Digame:
*el link a su comentario en #1
*el link a su post en #2

No incluiré como finalista ninguna persona que conozco personalmente ni, obviamente, compañeros de trabajo o miembros de mi familia.

Seré el juez unico y mi decisión es final.

Por entrar en el concurso, la ganadora promete enviarme, dentro de dos semanas de la fecha de recibir el premio, un ensayo colocable en la red de al menos 500 palabras sobre lo que que ocurrió cuando regalaron las computadoras restantes. Fotgrafias son opcionales, pero seria tremendo tenerlas con permiso para colocarlas en la red. No pondré en la red nombres ni otra información sin su autorización.

Ofreceré a la ganadora una lista de concursantes que casi ganaron, para que pueda compartir el premio con ellas, si asi desea. Siempre es al unico juicio de la ganadora como se comparte el premio.

A mi, la “Magia” del concurso será la lista de los finalistas; la gente que creo que son especialmente interesantes y creativas. Alguien obtendrá unas computadoras… y quisas obtendré una nueva bloglista.

Related posts:

HP Magic Giveaway: Welcome y ¡Bienvenidos!

Very soon, I’m going to be giving away a bunch of fantastic computer equipment from HP, as part of the HP Magic Giveaway, co-sponsored by Microsoft Windows Live.

I’ll be running a contest here on this blog. You can enter it AND you can enter the 49 other contests listed on the HP Magic Giveaway page!


If you’re here for the first time from the HP pages, welcome. I’m a feminist, activist, poet, and literary translator; I’m a computer programmer and a geeky, gadget-loving mom; I love games and science fiction, blogging, photos, and creativity! If you like to talk about any of those subjects, you’ve come to the right place. Especially if you like to mix up those subjects. Take a look at the tag cloud in the sidebar, and see where you might intersect with me and this blog’s readers. It’s very nice to meet you!

¡Y, Bienvenidos a todos que hablan español!

Stay tuned for my contest guidelines. Meanwhile, drool on some photos of these gorgeous computers that you have a great chance to win!

Related posts:

Gadget love – Messing with my G1

Look, my G1 made friends with my Chumby!

gadgets!
So far I’m very happy with the G1. It has a great feel, it’s easy to type on, its phone and net coverage is great so far in the SF Bay Area, and every day people are posting new new apps for it. If you are a sanfransocial chronic fidgeter like me you’ll be snicking this thing open & shut all day, because of its pleasant slide-y feeling. And because you will be all like OMG I HAVE THE MOTHERF*CKING INTERNET IN THIS BORING ELEVATOR.

The first thing I did was to try out everything on the phone. My contact list, which is a giant mess, is in there from my old Razor’s sim card. Seriously, it’s a huge mess. The few people that I call all the time, I starred to move them over to the “Favorites” tab in the Dialer. The phone dialer is nice; I like dialing on the touch screen rather than with the numbers. The other thing about Contacts/Dialer that I like is the long, detailed call log. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to add new numbers from the call log to my contacts list: click and hold on a log entry, which pulls up a new menu including one to save to contacts.

I find it a little perturbing that I can’t tell if I’m closing an app, or just backgrounding it. Is that stuff all still running in the background?!

In the browser, I logged into my gmail account. Suddenly a wealth of data is there for me, since I’m a heavy Google user. The top bar slides down window-shade style to show new email, messages, calls, or other notifications.

Maps – Fabulous. Try street view, then the compass.
Market – Works great for me so far. Fun to browse. I like the comments/reviews on each app, especially how they are often frivolous and rude.
Amazon MP3 – addictive, good browsing, works beautifully. Buy mp3s, move them over to your computer or server with no problem at all. I already love Amazon MP3 for its lack of DRM and its great selection especially in Latin music.
Browser – Okay, but I have a little trouble zooming, clicking, entering data into tiny boxes. I think it takes practice with the tiny trackball.
Calendar – Scary good if you use Google Calendar already. I have 4 calendars going at once. So far I find week view the most useful – there’s no text on it but you can tap a colored block for a quick popup that gives details.
Gmail – okay, but I wish I could delete
Camera – still playing around with it. Works very well in low light! Seems a bit slow, but autofocus works well.
Music – Slick!
Pictures – Works just fine
Youtube- haven’t tried it yet
Voice Dialer – Works! neat! Will I actually use it? No.

I stuck some photos on it and changed my desktop to a photo from my Flickr account. Therer’s a Flickr group with 640 x 480 photos to use for wallpaper, and you can find more wallpaper on the various community forums. Moving from the left and rights sides of the desktop to the middle & back is strangely addictive and beautiful. I tried for a while to move apps by flinging them, or holding them and scrolling, but couldn’t get that to work. INstead, if I want to move something from the center screen to the left or right, I click and hold, drag it to the trash; then go to the side screen, click and hold on the background, and add the alias to that app or shortcut.

g1, so cute!

After a while I looked at App reviews and “tips and tricks” on some of the forums: Android Forums, Tmobile G1 forum, androidcommunity.com.

When you plug in the G1 to a Mac with a USB cable, you will see just 3 folders: albumthumbs, dcim, and Music. Poke around in there and see what you can see. Drag some music over to the G1’s Music folder and it shows up in your Music app.

When you are browsing, click and hold on a photo to download it. Not sure if this works with pdfs, movies, or sound files – I haven’t tried yet. When you download something from the browser, a new folder is created that you can see when you poke around with a USB connection. Same for amazonmp3 and BlueBrush – they create folders you can access through a USB and your computer’s filesystem.

At some point I downloaded some apps and messed around with them. when I first got this beast early this week, there was barely anything except like 500 different tip calculators. Hello dorkwads, take the tax, double it and add a dollar or two, you don’t need to whip out your $300 phone to calculate the tip … OR DO YOU…

Amazed – a simple marble-in-a-maze game.
AnyCut – looks useful to make shortcuts.
Barcode Scanner – Interesting! But has way more potential
Bluebrush – I have not really explored it but it looks like a collaborative whiteboard drawing app. I would not call its menus or icons intuitive… Flailed a while then left.
Cab4me light – Great potential! I need this! Needs more cab companies, data, a button to turn the GPS on and off.
ConnectBot – YAY I can ssh from my phone! This makes me happy. If I could ssh into my phone as well, maybe use scp, wouldn’t that be nice?
Es Musica – Tried this for fun. Hey, bikini boxing!
iSkoot – Skype for the G1!
Langtolang dictionary. Simple translation dictionary for several languages.
Shazam – This is good. It listens & samples a few seconds of whatever music you’re listening to and identifies it. I tried it with a range of music. It had great accuracy.
Strobe Light – this is really great if you’re a total asshole. Of course I downloaded it.
WikiMobile – How handy. Will never have another restaurant argument again. Am already a know it all trivia-hole, and now I can prove it on the spot. I haven’t tried the other Wikipedia app yet. How do the different versions compare?

Here’s what I’d like to have on my G1:

* password/keychain manager. What a pain in the ass entering all this stuff.

* a plain old compass app, unrelated to Street View.

* Ecto, or some equivalent, so I can post quickly to any of my 24812469 blogs, which are not all on Google/Blogger/Blogspot.

* Photo uploaders. Better extensions to send photos out very quickly to Flickr, my various blogs, Twitpic, or whatever. Hot buttons, so that I can snap the photo, and hit a single on-screen button to go “send to X” rather than pull up a menu, connect with gmail, start typing, and send to my Flickr email. It should be seamless, so I can take another photo or act like a human being instead of a little gnome fiddling with my magic box all day long.

* G1-Thing, to hook up one of the barcode scanners with LibraryThing.

* Inventory functions. More “barcode scanning a list of objects” functions. When I scan a bar code I don’t necessarily want to look it up on google or amazon or ShopWhatever. I might want to just add it to a list of Junk in my Trunk. I could see people scanning their CDs or books or DVDs here. Or hooking in the list of stuff in their pantry to somewhere like FoodProof, to figure out what they could cook without having to shop.

AAAAAA! Did I just mention computers and recipes in the same breath? Maybe I should go back in time and buy a Honeywell Kitchen Computer!

Honeywell Kitchen Computer

Honeywell Kitchen Computer

* GPS. I would really, really love some cool GPS functions. I love the satellite tracker/detector screen on my old (borrowed) Garmin eTrex. I would just turn that thing on and stare at it for 10 minutes to see how many satellites would pop up. I’d like to know what satellites so I can look them up online. Better yet pop me up some info and tell me all about it. Holy crap! SATELLITES are flying around over us in SPACE. That never ceases to be cool.

Some geocaching apps that hook in to geocaching.com would rock.

* Tide tables. I have no reason to care, except that when I’m driving up to the city, if it happens to be low tide or a super low neap tide I might swing by the beach to poke some anemones and harass a hermit crab or two. If I were still surfing, a surf report app might be nice.

* Nethack. The real kind not the graphic version please!

* Auto rotate. Last but not least. I wish that the screen view would rotate when I turn the phone, not just when I open the keyboard! Or is that a setting already, and I’ve missed it?

Related posts:

Bloggers haul in tons of free stuff

I forgot to post about how I got a free camera! Whoever does the marketing for Flip is a genius, because forever more I will go around explaining to people how awesome my FREE CAMERA is. Plus, it has the satisfaction of a well-designed toy.

Whenever I mess around with it this is what happens:

People end up grabbing it from me. It’s so toylike that people aren’t scared of it. When was the last time you grabbed someone else’s video camera out of their hands and started filming? NOT… you’d be scared to touch most of them and you’d want the manual.

For years I have refused to deal with videocameras because they’re huge and expensive and have a million parts and I break them and lose the tapes, etc. But for months I’ve been playing with this Flip Video gadget and loving it. It only has a few buttons and doesn’t do anything fancy. It doesn’t have a million different “modes”. There is no annoying charger to lose so that the gadget becomes useless. It runs on a couple of AA batteries.

You turn it on, hit the record button, and have got 30 minutes of video. I tried it out without reading any instructions, and everything worked as I expected. When I hit the red button again, it stopped recording. Then when I started recording again, the camera was clearly making a new short video clip.

That’s it.

Only time in my life you’ll hear me say that I’m happy not to have a lot of options. No! I don’t want options! A little bit of zoom is just fine!

The lack of cables is also amazingly great. The USB connector flips out from inside the camera like a freaking switchblade. When I plugged it into my Mac, it installed its own software on my hard drive. The software is nothing too special or fast. Though it did the job, it was somewhat horrible. It downloaded all my short video clips into the flip software, and showed me — much like in iPhoto – an array of the clips, with a simple play and edit interface, and options to name and save each clip. I can upload them straight to YouTube. All of that is super handy.

But it was WAY handier to ignore the Flip software completely.

Just plug it in and treat it like a flash drive, drag the files off it, edit them (or not) and upload clips to Google Video, YouTube, or (for super short clips) to Flickr.

After I finish messing around with this video camera, I’m going to give it to Moomin. This is really a perfect videocamera for little kids — and for me.

You can zoom in an out a little bit. The video quality is not all perfect. But I sure don’t care. It’s funny but the video “quality” or resolution is the last thing I care about. I just want something cheap and convenient and easy.

Though… I recommend you get a cheap tripod for it to avoid embarrassing shakycam. The camera has a little screw-holder thingie on the bottom for a tripod. I’m thinking of keeping a small GorillaPod in my backpack for times when I’m planning to film more than 20 seconds.

Because when you give this camera to little kids (or me) you might get this, or this:

My other free stuff lately was all BlogHer conference swag:

gwendomama with headset swag

Free Bluetooth headset from Zivio! It’s called a Zivio Boom and came with a jillion different little earpieces. I like the changing colors on it and how the antenna-microphone retracts – it telescopes back into the body of the headset. It’s tiny for now, but I’m sure in 5 years we’ll laugh.

This was the other Best swag from BlogHer:

best blogher swag

Clockwise from upper left: KY lube, manicure set in sunglasses case, nail polish, 1GB flash drive bracelets from PBS Kids, Topix power outlet splitter (nice!!!), 1GB flash drive (from KY), snapfish gift card, stickers, Merci chocolate (LOTS), blogher heroes book excerpt, Word Girl comic book again from PBS, Zivio bluetooth headset (!!!!!), more KY, pens, Tmobile gift card (7 days, 20 bucks, super great, putting it right in my backpack… along with the lube).

Oddly I got a vial of “Zen oil” or some aromatherapy thing from Zivio as well. It smells nice and has the effect of Tiger Balm. I used it all this week on my forearms in the spot up near your elbow that hurts when you type too much. Why aromatherapy-tiger-balm with the headset? NO IDEA!

My 10 year old friend who cruised the sponsor rooms got a free Didj, which is sort of the next generation Leapster gadget for older kids.

didj

“Stick with me, kid,” I whispered. “Cute kid plus wheelchair, poster child city, they can’t resist, we’re going to own the world.” She laughed in outrage… but took the free stuff.

The whole conference I was sending people off to the secretly good tables to get the best free stuff. “Flash drive bracelets at the PBS table” I’d mutter. All the mom bloggers would be off like a shot. I was left holding my coffee talking to thin air. Oh man. We love the free geeky stuff.

Now, the down side of this whole bloggers-get-free-stuff shtick is the utter crap. Mostly that is books. I don’t know why! I love books! I love really good books. Why are there so many bad ones? Bad ones in my mailbox? It’s a mystery… Come on now. Keep nasty booksss, send awesome gadgets. I will put stickers and EL wire all over these free gadgets ONLY IF THEY DON’T SUCK and pose for photos licking all the free cameras and computers you care to fling in my direction.

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For Global Voices: About wheelchairs and mobility

For everyone I met and spoke with at Global Voices Citizen Media Summit I would like to pass on some information about mobility, disability, and wheelchairs. I got a lot of questions about my wheelchair and a lot of compliments on how well I get around. In a lot of countries, people don’t have access to wheelchairs, or only know about the most common kind of hospital chair. Here are some answers to the questions that people have been asking me at the conference.

My wheelchair is a type called an ultralight rigid frame. It weighs 17 pounds (8 kilos) and though I am not particularly strong, I can pick it up with one hand. The wheels come off just like a quick-release bike wheel. I can take off the wheels in about 10 seconds, fold the chair, and put it into a car or into the trunk of a taxi.

Standard hospital wheelchairs can weight 40 – 60 pounds (18 – 28 kilos). They are often designed to be pushed by an able-bodied walking person. With a lighter weight wheelchair, more people can gain independence.

These chairs are used by wheelchair athletes, but you don’t need to be an athlete to benefit from an lightweight chair.

The major manufacturers of ultralights are :

Quickie (Mine is a Quickie Ti)
http://www.quickie-wheelchairs.com/

Ti-Lite
http://www.tilite.com/store/

Colours
http://www.colourswheelchair.com/

These wheelchairs can be extremely expensive.

Here are two international projects to spread the availability of light weight, durable, low cost wheelchairs:

Whirlwind Wheelchair International is an open source project meant to help people across the world to set up entire factories or shops to produce low cost, very durable & rugged chairs.

http://www.whirlwindwheelchair.org/

Free Wheelchair Mission is a project to ship very, very cheap and maintainable wheelchair kits to every possible country. (Their project is controversial for many reasons; read this article for background.)

http://www.freewheelchairmission.org/thewheelchair.html

Getting the right size of wheelchair is important. But, given a choice between the wrong size in a light weight, and the right size that’s very heavy, I would take the lightweight chair.

Two good sources of information are Wheelchair Junkie forums, and Gimp Girl, a community for women with disabilities.

Playground baseball

One more thing, to answer the other question that you all are asking me:

My hair is dyed with Special Effects Blue Velvet and Punky Color Plum. It’s been that color for about 10 years. About once a month I put a little bit more purple to keep it bright!

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Installing Eeebuntu on an Asus Eeepc 900

Last night I installed eeebuntu on my Eeepc 900. You see how I love this little beast!

The instructions and forums on eeebuntu.org were helpful. I realized while I was doing the install that there’s Ubuntu Eee as well and that eeebuntu is basically just this one guy, Steve or “bezdomny”. Since he is super responsive on the forums and people report good experiences with the install, I figured it is a good bet as an OS. Ubuntu Eee also looks good!

I didn’t take good notes but here is my memory of what I had to do. I first tried to create a bootable USB stick from my Mac, but was missing syslinux so I used Oblomovka’s MacBook running Ubuntu to reformat it with parted (set 1 boot on). Then put the eeebuntu iso file on the USB stick with bezdomny’s isostick.sh script.

Then my eeepc booted from the USB stick. I hit “escape” during bootup and got a screen with 4 choices; the 4GB and 16GB drives on the eee, and two partitions on the USB stick. I chose a USB partition at random (wrong one) and then the other, which worked beautifully! It took a few minutes to boot. Wireless didn’t work, but when I plugged an ethernet cable into my Eee, I was on the net within about 15 seconds without having to configure anything.

So, I tried to follow this advice to get wireless working,

http://eeebuntu.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=175&highlight=wireless

But then got a little bit confused because I wasn’t sure where I should install madwifi and if it would work if I rebooted from the USB. At that point I decided I’d just take a chance and install over the totally working, but annoying and ugly and Windows-like, Xandros linux install that came with my eee. (Seriously, look at this, even their web site gives me hives.) It occurred to me that I might keep Xandros on the 4GB drive and install eeebuntu on the 16GB drive, and be able to boot either one. Which, if I couldn’t get wireless working on eeebuntu, would spare me scrambling around trying to re-install Xandros. I went on IRC at irc.freenode.net and asked on #ubuntu-eeepc if anyone knew if that would work. No one answered. I got on #ubuntu-women just to feel braver but didn’t ask anything. After some more poking around forums I decided to hell with it, blow away Xandros and if I have to reinstall it, comprendo bastante este video guía para instalearlo.

So I installed on the 4GB drive. It went completely smoothly, quickly, I rebooted, hey presto magic huzzah, I had working ubuntu on my eeepc. Plugging into ethernet worked smoothly again. I got the madwifi fix with wget and installed it. It didn’t work… I re-read the thread on the forums for the millionth time. They kept saying “turn on the wireless” and finally Oblomovka and I got it that we had to turn on wireless in the BIOS. So, reboot, hit F2, looked at “Advanced” and “Devices” or something like that, it was pretty intuitive, and got a list of stuff enabled and disabled. I enabled wireless and the webcam. Rebooted, and wireless worked SO beautifully. (Not like Xandros which was incredibly clunky and failed to get me onto my own home network half the time.)

More wireless links: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/EeePC/Fixes

Next problem to fix. The mousing was crazy. Or, really, the touchpad. I don’t have a mouse, but I still think of it as “mousing”. There was a system preferences panel for mouse and display, but nothing for the touchpad. A bit more reading and I was lost… but then a bit MORE reading and google-fu and I found that going to Applications, then Add/Remove, then searching All Available applications for “touchpad” or “synaptic” would get me the control panel that I needed. That worked but during install I got a warning to change a setting in xorg.conf which I will tell you is in /etc/X11. It’s helpful to look at some examples of xorg.conf options. Then, while in vi putting in the setting, I realized my keyboard is messed up and thinks that the ” key is actually an @ sign. So I’ll have to go figure that out and fix it — I know I chose US keyboard layout — what could it be?

What I need to be able to work off this machine on my trip:

Firefox, Greasemonkey
A good chat client
vim, perl (python would be nice)
the touchpad not to be freaking crazy. Tap-to-click OFF. Who uses that! Omg! Sucks!
Not sure if I will just suck it up with email and go back to Pine, or install Thunderbird and migrate my mailboxes, or use webmail of some stripe (ugh) Currently am favoring Pine because I’m lazy; Thunderbird only if I have time to install it.

Oh also, I’m resolving to document this more formally and contribute docs-writing to eeebuntu.

** further updates later today **

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DIY: Access Hacks project

For the second year in a row, I thought of the wheelchair modification and disability access projects that could and should be at Maker Faire. I’d like to make that happen next year.

At Maker Faire this year, I talked with Miguel Valenzuela, who was showing Lift Assist, a toilet lift device that can be built for $150 out of bits of PVC and junk from a hardware store, powered hydraulically from your own water system. That kind of thing costs thousands of dollars if you buy it as a medical device. If it were a DIY kit, and if it had open source plans and instructions up on the web, it could be useful to thousands of people all over the world.

So I got to thinking. Who would I even hook Miguel up with, to get his plans used? What other projects are spreading disability access devices, open source? Could things like this just be given over to an organization like Engineers Without Borders? How can they be open sourced or copylefted? Who’s collecting that information? Certainly not the U.N. committees on disability – ha!

There are specific projects like Whirlwind Wheelchair International and its design for the Rough Rider chair, developed by Ralf Hotchkiss and students over many years and meant to be distributed to shops or factories or organizations in developing nations. In other words, partnership with actual manufacturers. There’s the Free Wheelchair Mission which has a kit to build wheelchairs for under $50. They seem to take donations and then ship a giant crate of wheelchair kits to somewhere in the world. Those both look great. But neither of them were for a disabled person who might want to build their own stuff.

Then I found some nifty sites like Marty’s Gearability blog, which has a DIY category for “Life with limitations and the gear that makes things work”. She has made dozens of posts on modifications she’s made for her dad, who uses a wheelchair. I especially enjoyed the how-to for a wheelchair cup holder and the elegant, blindingly useful offset hinges to widen doorways.

I’m also somewhat familiar with Adafruit Industries and its projects like SpokePOV. What if assistive devices used something closer to this model? Rather than people patenting, and trying to sell their designs to a medical supply company, which marks it up a million times until disabled people in the U.S. can’t afford them unless they have insurance or can wait 5 years and fight a legal battle with Medicare.

I found organizations like Remap in the UK, that takes applications from individual disabled people, and hooks them up with an engineer who will build them a custom device. This I think exemplifies the well meaning but ill advised attempts to help disabled people through a “charity” model rather than through widespread empowerment. If an engineer is donating time and an invention, why not have them write up and donate the plans for whatever they are building, and post the DIY instructions for free? Then, thousands of people all over the world could build that invention for themselves.

Here’s another data-sucking black hole of information that should be out there on the beautiful, wild, free internet: academia. This paper on bamboo wheelchair designs is probably super great, but who knows? Only the libraries who have the bound copy of the conference proceedings of the 5th international bamboo conference back in 2002. This makes me very, very sad. OneSwitch, on the other hand, has the right idea. It’s a compendium of DIY electronics projects to build assistive devices. Perfect!

Meanwhile, I went looking for the latest news in open source hardware. What’s up with the Open Source Hardware License?

My own inventions for assistive devices have tended towards the creative yet slapdash use of duct tape. For example, my Duct Tape Crutch Pockets, an idea easily adaptable to small pouches for forearm crutches and canes, or to get more storage space onto your wheelchair.

My own canes and crutches that fold (with internal bungee cords) could use simple velcro closure straps to keep them folded up while they’re in my backpack or in the car. There are some ingenious ways, also, to attach canes or crutches to a wheelchair.

I have thought of, but not made, ways to extend storage space further. For example, I think that the lack of pockets in women’s clothing is a political issue. Women’s clothes are mostly designed without pockets, because of cultural pressure to look skinny, so women end up encumbered by bags and purses. If you think about how wheelchairs are made, it is interesting that they are assumed not to need storage space, cup holders, things like that. People hang little backpacks off their chairs. And there are a few custom made pouches for walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs, like this thin armrest pouch. You won’t find them in an actual wheelchair store – and rarely in a drugstore or medical supply house. Why not?

As wheelchair designs continue to evolve, I hope that manufacturers will create customizable backs and sides and seats. Nylon webbing with d-rings, sewn into the backs and under the seats of wheelchairs, would mean that custom pouches and packs could clip onto a chair. Then it would be easy to set up your chair with interchangeable bits. My laptop could go in a pouch under the seat, for example, so that it wouldn’t affect my center of gravity so drastically as it hangs off the seat back in a backpack.

I’d like to see more and more mods for chairs and canes and crutches that are just for fun. The little holes in adjustable-height, hollow metal walking canes — don’t they seem like the perfect size to stick an LED light in there?

Also, meanwhile, I had posted briefly the other day for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008 with a list of ideas for Practical actions that will help, like smoothing out steps into a small business (ie just freaking pour some asphalt in there or build a wooden wedge even if it is not exactly to code; people do nothing, for fear of being sued, rather than spend thousands to do a to-code ramp, and I’d rather they just stuff in a slope and bolt a rail to the wall than do nothing!). After I made the list, I went looking for online instructions on how to do the things I was suggesting. What did I come up with ? Jack shit! Nothing! Nada!

So, here’s what I propose we do:

– Compile free and open source how-tos, plans, designs, etc. on Disapedia. I have made a page for DIY equipment.

– I will go and interview Hotchkiss and his class, and write up more detail on how their open source project works.

– A meeting to share access hacks and start to add to that wiki page on Disapedia.

– I’ll head up an effort to organize a really good disability/accessibility hacking booth for Maker Faire next year.

For the Access Hacks booth, I’d like to pull in:
– craft/sewing people for stuff like mobility device storage and mods with velcro and fabric
– metal working people
– electronics people (like the OneSwitch folks)
– Maybe invite Tech Shop and the Bay Area wheelchair stores to participate
– obviously, disabled crafty/makery people. I thought I could try to pull in GimpGirl and put the word out in other communities
– Flyers on how to open source your hack and make it free – license info, where to post, hook up with places like WikiHow.

This could make a super fantastic real life application for hardware/craft hacks. I would love to just hang out all weekend with a bunch of other people with disabilities and share whatever hacks we’ve already come up with. That in itself would be productive without even doing it at Maker Faire. I’d like an Access Hacks meeting around here and I wonder if people would host them elsewhere and then post tips on Disapedia. (I would like to use them rather than host a new wiki, but I’m willing to make an access hacks wiki if that’s what people would like.)

Please, leave feedback in the comments.

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Folk logic computing for every gadget

Midnight blogging! I was thinking of all the science fiction about smart houses, like Smart House (Kate Wilhelm) or Remains (Mark Tiedemann). I don’t want to talk to my house, and I don’t want it to be a master controller of Everything in my living environment. Instead I want all my household gadgets to be more like my Chumby. I don’t want to freaking “program” my VCR or my coffeemaker. I want to swipe the widgets that my friends hack up. A couple of years ago I talked at the first Barcamp about social networks and trusting small areas of expertise. But now I think that idea will be played out better through folk logic. My co-housing mate obsesses on automatic control of our houses’ heating and so I bought a fairly cheap gadget with the most annoying user interface ever and now can never control the damned heat level of my house without consulting a 10 page user manual and going bleep bleep bleep oh whoops hell beep beep beep damn oh I give up, and then it reverts to how it was 12 hours later anyway. Screw that. The damn thing should run linux, like everything else should, and then I could log in to it and tell it to use Max’s program which he had the patience to set up. Likewise, I don’t care enough about TV to even mess with Tivo. (Count the number of media players in the world that right now are flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.) I would rather just copy my friend Laura’s setup because I am likely to like anything she likes; we have the same taste in many areas, as you can see from our LibraryThing profiles. There are areas where I put in a lot of time and have tons of expertise, so my friends or fans would rip whatever widgety things I hacked up.

I can’t quite imagine how or why we would program our fridges or bread machines or coffee makers but they sure as hell have oddly sophisticated computer chips in them already, and someone will think of something good. So why not — my coffee maker should be truly “programmable” and have some kind of open source layer so that people can write stuff for it.

Everything computery should be hackable. I’m not going to have the time to hack everything, but someone in my social network will.

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Wear your fandom

Two things that got me thinking today:

A bracelet flash drive in pink and blue rubber. Like jelly bracelets but with 512 MB of space! If I were a teenager I would be wearing my chat program and archives here, and my private diaries, and maybe a little music. Making it a bracelet is a great idea – who doesn’t hate the usual drive design with the little caps that come off and get lost?

To this thought I will add the lovely illustration of Moore’s Law: 512 MB drives for 99 cents.

I realize I’m jaded now and expect to carry around a month’s worth of music with no repeats in an Altoids tin. Very soon we’ll have nice jewelry for our hard drives, and not just cheap jelly bracelets.

If I were a computer manufacturer or a media conglomerate I’d be doing stuff like putting Buffy DVD collections onto fancy Buffy themed bracelets. We aren’t quite to the point of carrying all human-generated information on a tiny holocube crystal earring. But the DVD bracelets will be great – have your stuff around handy to watch any time. There’s all sorts of stuff to put onto wearable computers, but probably videos will be the killer. Spiffing up the jewelry with visible identifiers or particular styles means you’ll be able to wear your fandom.

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