Wishing for peace and happiness this holiday?

Image: One Laptop Per Child computer
The One Laptop Per Child organization () aims to produce cheap laptops for distribution to kids in developing areas around the globe. The laptop, known as the XO, is designed to endure harsh environmental conditions and run off the grid. Pay $399 through the Give One Get One promotion and both you and a child will receive an XO. OLPC

Each year the Consumer Electronics Association polls American consumers about their holiday wishes. Peace and happiness, a perennial favorite, lost out for the top spot this year to — drum roll please — a new PC. Sure, we were surprised (OK, shocked) but that didn’t stop us from digging up the hottest PC gifts.

Now it’s time for peace and happiness to shine. This year’s number two most-wanted gift can be found on the Web in abundance. Here, in Part Two of our holiday wish gift guide, we show you where to find the goodwill online.

Big-screen TVs earned third place, so look for Part Three, coming soon.

Part Two:

Holiday Wish List: Peace and happiness
Since the holidays are a time for giving, there’s no better way to spread the love than donating to a charity or philanthropic organization. The Web is a terrific tool for researching, learning, and streamlining the donation process.

So before you fire off a check to the same old charity, spend some time online to dig a little deeper.

The relentless assault of bulk mailings from non-profits hints at the big business side of charity. What do they use your money for? Then there’s the bewildering array of organizations to choose from. The American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org) has a rating system for evaluating charitable organizations complete with a handy letter grade.

To earn an “A” from the notoriously stringent AIP, an organization must typically be open with their accounting, put 75% or more of its donations toward program costs, and spend less than $25.00 to raise $100.00. (See list of "A"-rated charities below.) You can peruse and jump to the honor role organization’s sites from CharityWatch.

The Better Business Bureau also hosts a guide to charities at www.give.org. This is the place to go if you already have a charity in mind. Their massive directory of national charities provides a mini-annual report including the low-down on how much of the funds raised go back into programs.

The BBB has a set of 20 criteria that need to be met to qualify for accreditation. Many organizations don’t meet them all, but at least you’ll know where your favorite charity comes up short.

Any top-rated charity will undoubtedly up the happiness quotient, but let’s not forget about the peace part of the deal. Maybe what you care most about is the war in Iraq. Overtly political organizations are notably absent from the AIP and BBB directories.

But if peace is what you're wishing for, United for Peace and Justice (www.unitedforpeace.org) is a coalition of more than 1,300 local and national groups with a single-minded focus: ending the war in Iraq.

One cheap, tough laptop per child
We’d be seriously remiss as technologists if we failed to mention this noble endeavor. The One Laptop Per Child organization ( www.laptop.org) aims to produce cheap laptops for distribution to kids in developing areas around the globe. The big idea is to give underserved kids technology that’s otherwise unavailable and empower them to learn in new ways.

While the target price of the XO, as the charmingly cartoony device is known, was originally $100.00, manufacturing has yet to ramp up to the required level. For now the XO is going for $200.00, which includes the laptop and delivery to one knowledge-hungry kid.

Through December 31 you can take part in the Give One Get One promotion (www.laptopgiving.org); place an order on the Web for a $399.00 twofer. Both you and a child will receive an XO.

The XO is ingeniously designed to endure harsh environmental conditions and run off the grid. If electricity is scarce, the unit can be configured to get its juice from a few hand cranks or a solar panel.

The open-source Linux OS runs a host of learning, writing, RSS, Web, programming, and art applications, all using a universally simple system of icons. The laptops automatically form a local network with each other and can hop on a Wi-Fi network if available.

Charities That Make the Grade
These charities were given an “A” from CharityWatch.org: United Negro College Fund, AIDS Research Alliance, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cancer Research Institute, Save the Children, The Salvation Army, Alaska Conservation Foundation, The Sierra Club, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, American Red Cross, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, International Peace Academy, CARE, Action Against Hunger, Doctors Without Borders, Global Fund for Women, Big Brothers/Big Sisters