Editor’s note: Aaron Houghton, chairman and co-founder of e-mail marketing technology firm iContact, is blogging from the Fortune Brainstorm Technology conference in California.

A Short Segue about the Segway

July 23, 2008

Yesterday I got the chance to ride a second generation Segway at the Fortune Brainstorm Technology conference in Half Moon Bay, California. Myself, Ryan, and a group of about 25 total attendees from the conference started on a nearby tennis court and were trained one-by-one on how to mount, drive, stop, steer, and dismount the Segway. As each person was trained we moved over to the other side of the court to practice getting around. Only two wrecks later (neither were me) the whole group was trained in about 30 minutes and we were off to cruise along the high cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, luckily on a nice cement trial about 15 feet back from the edge.

Even though I had only been a Segway rider for less than an hour I felt comfortable riding along beside the cliffs. I guess you can at least jump off of the thing if it were to try to take you in a direction you didn’t want to go. After we returned from our quick tour around the property and trails of the Ritz Carlton along the ocean we returned to the parking lot beside the training tennis courts. Although we had done all of our cruising around on the turtle mode which limits the top speed to about 6 mph the tour guides turned turtle mode off and we took a few quick turns and shots around the parking lot at 12 mph. I never realized twelve miles per hours was so fast, at top speed I really felt like I was shooting along. I can see why they wouldn’t recommend it to beginners, you could get yourself seriously hurt if you fell off or accidentally steered into something.

Ryan (Allis, my partner and chief executive officer at iContact) Super fun! There may very well be a Segway in my commuting future. It goes about 24 miles on a single charge at a cost of about 10 cents (I cannot remember if that was 10 cents total or 10 cents per mile). My daily commute is about three miles each way. Stay tuned.

What’s Tech Got to Do with It?

July 21, 2008

The first session of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, California is underway on the topic of “What’s Tech Got to Do with It?.” The room is crowded and I found a good spot on the back row at the top. I’m still cooling down from a good 45 minute Segway ride along the ocean and cliffs. Ideas are on fire and so is this fountain outside the front lobby of the hotel here.

Interesting comments from the session are as follows:

SalesForce’s Mark Benioff: Their product managers used to have to go up to the mountain to get new product ideas, but now they’re just prioritizing things that customers request… they have “their big ears on.” Web 3.0 is

Dell’s Michael Dell: Dell will have and will learn from (using Mark’s software, salesforce.com) over 2 billion conversations with their customers this year. What we think of as broadband in the US is nothing compared to what Japan and some other parts of the world have.

Management Lab’s Gary Hamel: These days most ideas will be from irregular people doing irregular things with irregular thoughts. Most companies are better at using their customers’ imagination than their own imagination. The question today is “What is your platform advantage? Where are you creating something that is attracting builders?”

Fourth Speaker: German culture isn’t really into taking risk, risk associated with innovation doesn’t exist. But they will always be fine because of the size of their economy.

Question from the Crowd: Where is the platform strategy for the automotive world? Why isn’t a company building out the infrastructure for building a hundred Tesla cars? Michael Dell responds that the infrastructure for cars has been built, it’s called the roads.

One Laptop Per Child Worldwide Match Program Announced

July 23, 2008

I had the opportunity to take a One Laptop Per Child foundation XO laptop for a virtual test drive at the Fortune Brainstorm Technology 2007 Conference in San Francisco last year. Last month I was at home and my dad had one at the house for a while, courtesy of some of his friends at Western carolina University, so I got to spend a few hours with the machine, getting online and cruising around on its Linux operating system.

I was very impressed.

The laptop is lightweight, feels very durable, and didn’t seem unnecessarily slow. After many years of work the OLPC foundation has created a very convincing product in the XO, although it’s for sale for $200 not the $100 that was originally targeted. I don’t think it matters, they have made and continue to make their point… and a difference in the world. I’m excited to watch their progress over the next five years.

In the fall of 2007 Nicholas Negroponte’s OLPC Foundation announced a buy-one give-one program in which Americans and Canadians could purchase two of their production XO machines for $399. One would be shipped to the person purchasing the machine in either of these countries, the other would be shipped to a child in a developing country at no cost to that country or the child.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Fortune Brainstorm Technology Conference that I’m attending in Half Moon Bay, California, Nicholas announced that they would soon reinstate the buy-one give-one program but that this time they would allow people in any country worldwide to participate. The crowd was excited.

Nicholas was sitting beside David Kirkpatrick from Fortune about 10 feet from me as he unveiled and displayed for the first time the XO laptop running Windows which he described was a critical milestone to getting widespread international adoption of the computer. He said this was not because he expects countries to purchase Windows licenses for all of the laptops they will buy but instead because knowing that they could install Windows on the machines gives them the confidence to invest in the Linux OS version machines and know that they can upgrade the operating system if at any point they have the resources or the need to do so.

I think this is interesting and I wouldn’t have thought this at first because anything required to keep the cost down is critical for this project but the idea of being prepared for expansion is important.