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The Allure of Used Media

I was just reading today about some rumors surrounding the system that’s being called, for lack of a better name, the XBox 720.  It’s supposed to be coming out in late 2013 or 2014, which is bad for a couple of reasons.  One, if they screw the pooch and don’t get it to hit that magical pre-holiday season shopping surge, they’re dead.  Second, the entire console gaming industry could be as lively in 2014 as the current 8-track tape industry is today.  But that’s not what shocked me about the news; neither was the fact that they’re moving to BluRay discs for their format.  What threw me is the announcement that the new system won’t let you play used games.

This hasn’t been entirely clarified, but I’m guessing that games will force you to do some sort of online activation scheme, or otherwise be bound to your Microsoft ID.  If you can’t beam home and lock that copy to your ID, you can’t play.  This would probably be swaddled in some distraction, like saying “I’m going to go online now and download all of your COOL NEW GIANT BONUS GUNS!!” and then lock down the game while pulling down updates.  The DIVX DVD player from a decade ago had a similar system, and failed miserably.  It used a phone line to connect back to the mothership, like an old-school cable box did for PPV purchases, but now that every home (in theory) has wifi and ethernet and broadband, that part of the equation is less of a big deal.

I was just reading a J.G. Ballard interview where he talked about the influence of used book stores when he was younger, how he’d dig around these places after some old geezer kicked the bucket and his widow hauled off a century’s worth of book hoarding for six pence a title, and find among the pulp paperbacks the occasional gem.  I used to do the same thing, partly because the prices were always good, but partly because the only other book stores around were Walden’s-type places that didn’t stock anything interesting, or maybe the occasional Border’s that would have the last one or two of an author’s works, at full cover price.  I spent so much time poring over titles in basement stores, taking home books that looked cool, and occasionally stumbling onto something life-changing.

I did the same thing with CDs and music, too.  I mean, I worked both sides of the deal, dragging a backpack of the lowest-rated titles from my collection every time I was broke and had to pay a massive phone bill or buy enough groceries to coast into next payday.  But I’d often spent hours going from A to Z in those used CD places, trying to find something obscure, or just looking for bands I’d never heard, so I could try them out for half the price of a retail CD.  I buy 100% of my music digitally now, and that experience is completely gone now.  I can listen to 30-second clips of an artist’s songs in the iTunes store, and that’s helpful, but the entire tactile situation of running my fingers over five thousand plastic spines on jewel cases to find some obscure d-list band on Earache is gone.

I don’t know how big the used game market is these days, although at the height of my PlayStation 2 days, I’d frequently turn in the duds in my collection for store credit.  I was always the kind of gamer that would be stuck on a single title for weeks and months on end, instead of having to get the latest games as they came out and then immediately solve them.  I am guessing if you’re that kind of gamer, you probably use one of those Netflix-like game rental services, although this begs the question if they will also be screwed by a one-player-per-title system.

The main thing killing the console game system is another reason why the game-ownership system makes less sense.  When you play something like Mafia Wars, you don’t buy the game; the client is your browser, and you “own” your online account.  You don’t spend money buying a physical disk; you buy game currency or points or guns or upgrades or whatever else.  I think more games will follow this WoW model where the client is either free or cheap, and you either pay for upgrades or pay per month or hour or whatever.

I’m also wondering if this will cause a “dark ages” in collecting of systems in the future.  I can hop on eBay and hoard away any number of Atari 2600 titles.  But will there be a point in ten or twenty years when the then-middle-aged person goes to buy all of the XBox720/PS4 games they didn’t have as a kid and be as screwed as that guy who built a replica Cray supercomputer and can’t boot it because nobody has an OS for it?

 

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The Cult of Keyboards

As I approach the end of my 40th year, my body is falling apart.  Okay, that may be an over-exaggeration, but every morning, it feels like another piece has been overextended or abused or mutilated, from the various discs in my back to the muscles and joints in my shoulders or arms or knees or toes or whatever.  Ever since I’ve started working from home, poor ergonomics has caused a rash of various repetitive stress injuries.  Or maybe all of the steps I’ve tried to prevent said injuries have caused it.  I don’t know.

I do know that my keyboards have been the main focus of this hell.  I mean, I also bought extensions to raise my desk, a different mount to raise my monitor, and one of those freaky bicycle seat-looking office chairs to prevent me from slouching, and that all helps.  But I think in the last decade, I’ve probably put down about a million words between work and fiction, and all of those go through my ten digits via some kind of USB-connected appliance that’s based on a design originally thrown down a hundred and a half years ago by opium-deranged business machine sadomasochists trying to find a way to keep busy women in between bouts of making sandwiches.  Never mind the fact that we don’t yet have machines that read our minds or let us simply talk to our computers like we’re Scotty whipping up a batch of god damned transparent aluminum. The fact that we still use essentially the same QWERTY design as a century ago, the one that was specifically invented to slow down typists, is a travesty to all things mechanical.

When I got to Seattle in the mid-90s, ergo-mania was happening, and I knew more people who had RSI or carpal tunnel than I knew in Indiana who thought the earth was created 3000 years ago, and that’s a lot.  Ergo was huge, and there were all of these bizarre startups running out of garages churning out short runs of chording keyboards and strange split devices and custom DVORAK layouts, not to mention all of the alternate mouse designs, like track balls and track pads and track pens and track cocks and whatever else.  And this was before the advent of USB, when this stuff became really easy to make, and before Microsoft upped the ante on RSI by inventing prolific right-click menus and then the scroll wheel, two things that have caused more arthritis of the right hand than all of the collected works of Megan Fox.

Microsoft both created and destroyed the ergo market by coming out with their own mass-produced split keyboard.  I will give credit where credit is due and say this is one product that Microsoft got mostly right.  I’ve gone through a succession of these split keyboards, most recently using the Ergo 4000, which has a large number of “media” buttons, which are nice for doing things like pausing iTunes or skipping tracks or zooming the browser window.  However, aside from the fact that I go though about one of these a year (mostly because of a combination of eating at my computer and the fact that the letters wear off almost instantly) there’s always been something slightly wrong with these peripherals.

Before the Microsoft models, I went through a series of IBM Model M keyboard clones; in fact, my first keyboard I bought in 1991 was an honest-to-god 83-key IBM keyboard from a 5-slot 5150 PC.  In 2012, there are a lot of issues with these keyboards, aside from just the total lack of ergonomic comfort; you’re not going to find a Windows key or an Apple key, and they use a cable that predates USB by at least two or three iterations.  Most of the vintage ones have also gone from the 90s computer beige to the yellow-brown color of linen in a ten-pack-a-day smoker’s house.

But the switches in these keyboards were magic.  New keyboards don’t use individual switches; they use dome switches, where the keys push this rubbery sheet that contains little bits that complete the electrical connection. The result is a quiet and cheap keyboard that feels like typing while your fingers are suspended in a bowl of mush, and at some point, the little domes will sporadically fail, and every 10,000th character you type will randomly miss, eventually causing insanity and the cost of both replacing the keyboard and the window you throw it through in a maddened rage.  The old keyboards used actual mechanical switches, each one happily clicking with a sharp tactile feel as you snapped away at the keys.  Even if you couldn’t type fast, it felt like you were typing fast.

This introduces this never-solvable paradox that seems to creep up in every damn aspect of my life.  I want an ergonomic split keyboard, that is modern and uses USB and has all of the new keys people use like Win and Alt, and has mechanical key switches.  The Microsoft ergo uses rubber dome switches, and at some point, those fail and cause madness.  It also means that even with a brand new keyboard, it feels like I’m typing underwater.  There’s a whole cult of mechanical switch keyboards, mostly from gamers who need lightning-fast key response.  Those are all standard layout, mostly because gamers only use the WASD keys.  There’s also the issue that these keyboards are all marketed to 14-year-old Asian boys, and have names like the “Viper Frag Kill 9000” and you will pay $200 for backlighting and extra buttons specifically used for Skyrim or whatever.  And outside of Microsoft, the ergo keyboard market has largely been killed.  Add to this the frustration that every single computer sold comes with a keyboard, and because the cheapest way of making them is good enough for a person who types at most 140 characters in a row, the $19 OEM POS is fine for almost everyone.

My problem with this – or with building a kitchen island, or finding the right desk, or getting a set of sliding glass doors done, or whatever the hell else, is I fall down these deep internet k-holes of endless searching and frustration.  There are several internet discussion boards full of game playing fiends touting their favorite boards.  But of course, if you posted asking for a good ergo keyboard, you’d get a thousand responses saying RSI is a myth, kind of like if you went into a random bar in Arkansas and asked the locals about global warming or evolution.  And your first 900 results in a google search are links to the Microsoft Ergo 4000.

This fall, I finally gave up and bought a Kinesis Advantage.  They are not cheap; I spent just shy of $300 for mine.  But they use actual Cherry mechanical switches, and feature a unique split system, where the bulk of the keys are in two “bowls”, and all of the modifier keys (ctrl/alt/win/apple) plus keys like the backspace, delete, enter, and space, all sit under your thumbs.  This means you can do 99% of your typing without stretching your hands out of the home position, and the keys happily clack away to confirm your speedy typing.  The Kinesis also has a complex and powerful system of keyboard remapping and macro programming in its firmware, which I will probably never use.   The one real bummer, aside from price, is that the function keys are these little rubber chicklets that will inevitably get jammed or stop working.  There’s also the issue that I am not historically a touch typist, and I had to spend a month using a touch typing tutor program (the wonderful and open-source Tipp1o) to get to the point where those ring and pinky fingers were hitting the As and Ses and Ls and ;s with regularity.

The k-hole has been reopened lately, though.  I’ve been wondering if there’s a good way to replace those damn chicklet keys.  Maybe I should get a keypad or jog-shuttle control to remap these keys.  Maybe I should get out the dremel and buy a dozen and a half loose Cherry keys and replace the switches.  Maybe I should remap the largely useless Home key so Home-1=F1;Home-2=F2, and so on.  Maybe I should stop all of this and actually write books.  Sure, right after I try to find a Kinesis macro programming FAQ online, and then hem and haw about buying a Griffin PowerMate.

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Life and death of the Game Boy

When the Game Boy first came out, I was infatuated with Tetris, still a new disease to me.  I could spend any amount of money playing Tetris in 1989 or 1990, until I had nightmares about falling blocks and that stupid song stuck in my head.  So when the Target stores started putting display units of Game Boys chained to a glass countertop in the electronics department, I’d spend hours mashing that little grey cross and the two red buttons to drop tetronimos on its pea-green LED display.  I lusted after the Game Boy, even though I didn’t even have a home computer at the time, and if I had the money for Nintendo’s portable game system, I would’ve had half the money for a cheap Amiga.

There’s something pervasive about handheld game systems.  All through the 80s, the systems grew in complexity, starting with those addictive football games that were nothing but a series of rows of LEDs, or the Simon-type games, things that just beeped and bleeped to get you to mash buttons and eat through nine-volt batteries, spending more of your time learning how to put the two terminals of a square battery on your tongue to gauge how much juice it still contained.  I had a few of these games, like this D&D game where you had to move through a maze and not get clobbered by these little LCD sprites, something I got for $20 and played the hell out of until it became boring.  I enjoyed the games, but the cost proposition was too high to fully embrace the format.

But there was always something intimate about the little pocket games, like a secret drug addiction you could slip into and avoid life.  The console systems, the pongs and 2600s and NESes, always seemed a more public affliction, something you’d set up in your living room and inflict on the entire family.  Maybe it’s because they involved a TV set, and this was a time when there were more American homes than TV sets.  But the pocket systems involved a personal closeness, something that was instantly on, always there, a tiny screen only you could see.

The mixed curse to these is they only played one game.  When you got the pocket Space Invaders game, it only played Space Invaders.  Sometimes, you could toggle a switch to get a different difficulty, or change your tennis game to play handball instead, but the units were almost entirely dedicated to that single pursuit.  A huge advantage to that is every game had its own controls, its own button layout and size and feel and placement and color.  When you played the aforementioned Space Invaders game, those buttons, along with the unique display elements, the custom LED or LCD panel, were your direct connection to that game; your pocket Pac Man or handheld Galaga had a completely different set of controls and look and feel, and was a different drug entirely.

(That’s my chief complaint about the Kindle.  I love it, and use it when I travel, but I don’t like that every book has essentially the same look and feel because I’m reading it on the same sized screen and holding the same exact weight in my hand and pressing the same exact buttons, regardless of author or title.  When I read a paper copy of a Philip K. Dick book, the binding and size and font and smell of the pages dictate a completely different experience than when I’m reading Freakanomics. But on the Kindle, there’s some latent similarity in the experience, which bothers me.)

Of course, the big advantage to a one-system-plays-all approach like the Game Boy is that you bought one system, then bought a bunch of cartridges and had a whole library of titles to play.  Unfortunately, it never worked that way for me.  I got the Game Boy Pocket in 1996, a gift from my girlfriend at the time, something I could use to whittle away the hours while sitting in airports on a long and tortuous holiday trip back to Indiana.  The Pocket is an often-forgotten model, an incremental redesign of the original, smaller, using fewer batteries, but otherwise the same unit.  They quickly came out with a color unit, and I felt deceived in that way that happens when your top-of-the-line electronics purchase is suddenly old hat.

My first game purchase was, of course, Tetris plus, a version of the original Russian plague with some additions, like if you cleared special bonus blocks, you could drop bombs and blow up pieces.  I played the living shit out of that cartridge.  The Pocket used dual AAA batteries, good for ten hours at a clip, and I went through many sets of Duracells for that machine. I spent late nights seized by writer’s block, sitting in bed in the darkness, a single halogen nightstand light trained on the not-backlit LED screen, trying to beat my high score on the little red plastic box.  I didn’t have a home video game system, and this was long before phones with games, so this was a unique addiction to me.

But I couldn’t really find any other games as prevailing as Tetris.  I think I bought one or two new cartridges, including a Star Wars platform game with horrible graphics; I got stalled trying to navigate through the Death Star and couldn’t go any further.  I also went to my favorite used record store in Seattle on University, and went through their stack of loose and book-less cartridges, trying to find anything interesting.   I found a Boggle game, which was completely useless with no keyboard, and a Mahjongg game which caused migraines because the tiles were so unreadable on the low-resolution screen.  For whatever reason, Tetris was not only the killer app for the system; it was the only app.  Everything else was either too graphics-intensive or needed more CPU or didn’t work well on a cartridge or begged for network connectivity or needed different controls.  Tetris was the One True App for the system.

Nintendo has gone through two major iterations (GBA, DS) and many minor upgrades of the system, and I never got onboard with any of them, although there were moments, usually during fire sales of obsolete systems or fits of extreme boredom stuck in airports, that I considered it.  But then the Palm came along, and now phones can play games almost as well as the handheld systems.  This is ultimately Nintendo’s doom, just like how the emergence of home computers killed dedicated video game systems in the 80s.  Why spend hundreds on an Atari 5200 and an Atari 800 when you can get an Atari 800 and play games plus “learn computers” and do educational stuff? Never mind that the 800’s games were a slight step behind the 5200’s, or that 99% of the people never did any educational shit on home computers, regardless of the huge revolution that was promised back then.

It’s the same way now.  Why buy a Nintendo 3DS for $200 and then buy a laptop or iPad for “educational” stuff, when you could just buy the tablet or PC, and play Angry Birds on that?  There are several minor holes to shoot in that argument – I think the MSRP on a 3DS got dropped for the holidays; the 3DS is a better “true” game machine and has better tactile buttons and 3D technology blah blah blah.  But parents don’t shop for toys based on vertex performance of the GPU; they go on groupthink, and that says that if you buy your kid an iPad, they will “learn computers” and become a genius, case closed.

But there’s something about that tactile relationship to the Game Boy or the older pocket games that Nintendo could exploit, and I don’t know how.  Maybe Nintendo will need to fail, maybe there’s a need for a huge video game crash like 1984 all over again, and another company will have to rise from the ashes to convince people that something other than Farmville is the future to gaming.  But what will that be?

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The Death of Palm

In a serious WTF move yesterday, HP announced they were ditching their hardware manufacturing business, and abandoning their work on WebOS devices.  HP just bought Palm a little over a year ago for 1.2 billion dollars.  Their big splash was the iPad killer tablet, the HP TouchPad, which sold roughly as well as the Edsel in the year before its demise. It’s a sad end to Palm, and evidence that doubling down doesn’t always pay off.

I have a long history with Palm, mostly because I’ve always wanted some kind of little portable machine to store my “brain” of vital info and capture little bits of writing ideas as I’m away from my desk.  I remember first hearing about Palm back in 1996, when I was still at my first job in Seattle.  At that time, the gold standard of portables was the Apple Newton, which were nice, but cost somewhere around a grand.  US Robotics rolled out their new device for only $300 for the low-end model, and they were way smaller and lighter than the Newton.  When I first stumbled across this new product on the web, they had a little Palm Pilot simulator you could download, which let you walk through the various screens of the PDA, albeit without the touch-screen area for a pen stylus.  I was 90% sold on this initial model, but 10% of me had serious doubts.  (And 100% of me didn’t have $300 burning a hole in my pocket.)

The thing that was most offputting to me was that the Newton was essentially a shrunk-down computer. You could put cards in it and it had its own file system that you could fill with apps and documents and whatever else.  But PalmOS was based on this alien concept that you carried a mirror of your important data, a copy, that got synced when you plugged the device back into the mothership of your home PC.  It was a sort of parasite, like one of those little helicopters on the decks of huge yachts, and wasn’t a “real” computer.  I don’t know why that bothered me, but it was new at the time, and I didn’t like it.  (It’s the same stumbling block a lot of Windows people have about the iPad, and why you see tons of people in message boards yelling “IT DOESNT HAVE A PCMCIA SLOT!  I CANT RUN VISUAL STUDIO ON IT!  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CUT BROADCAST-QUALITY HD VIDEO ON THAT THING?”)

So I didn’t get one. In the meantime, a bunch of people I worked with at my next job bought into a lot of bleeding-edge PDAs that have since left our collective consciousness.  Some of them were Newton or MessagePad die-hards, and a couple bought into the Magic Cap platform.  Windows CE devices also started appearing, which I thought was absolutely ridiculous at the time.  I spent my cash elsewhere, mostly on this other portable reading system better known as paper books, and patiently waited until Moore’s Law kicked in.

After I moved to New York, though, I foresaw a future of sitting on subway trains for a good chunk of my day. So I went down to J&R’s Music World, which is like the East-coast version of Fry’s electronics stores crowded with off-brands and flashy bright pricetags. I bought a Palm IIIx, which I think set me back $200 or so, and then figured out all of the cryptic mumbo-jumbo I needed to get it to talk to a linux machine.  (It probably involved recompiling the kernel five times.)

My use of the Palm fluctuated, and went through phases.  I’d go through periods when I downloaded a ton of ebooks, tried to keep a journal, and jotted down everything I saw or thought of, in hopes of eventually rolling it into my own writing.  I’d play dope wars forever (“you found two hits of acid on a dead dude in the subway!”) and remember reading that Bruce Sterling book The Hacker Crackdown and a good chunk of the Unabomber manifesto on that little 160×160 greenish LCD.  I never got the hang of writing in graffiti, the shorthand system of scratching on the little input area; I can barely print in Latin letters, let alone a system I haven’t been using for decades.

Everyone had a Palm back then.  When I worked at Juno, I think every single person on my team had a Palm III or V, except for one dude that had a Handspring Visor.  (I think one of the Directors also had the ultra-expensive Palm VII, which had an antenna hanging off of it, and could pull down the amount of web traffic you’d consume in about 60 seconds now over the course of a month, all for $14.95.) One of the project managers on my team found a hangman game you could play wirelessly over the IR ports, and our meeting productivity suddenly dropped 100%.  I’d get on the train and see dozens of people clicking with their little styluses on the charcoal or silver boxes, all of them drowning in crazy NASDAQ money as the tech bubble continued to expand like a huge zit on a teenager’s face.

I never fully sunk into the system, though.  Part of it was that it wasn’t 100% of what I needed to do with the damn thing.  I couldn’t really write on it; I couldn’t run totally kick-ass games with it.  There was no camera, no web browser, no way to send emails on the go.  I couldn’t write my own programs for it.  I could barely get the damn thing to sync with my PC, and would only plug it in maybe once or twice a month.  There was also the issue that I had a cell phone that could do about 23% of what I wanted, and this Palm that could do maybe 41%, and then I carried around a MiniDisc player, which totally solved the music issue, but only for the discs I remembered to shove in my pocket that morning.  I really needed some device that would do all of this and more, but that would be almost a decade away.  In the meantime, I assembled this mess of cables and adaptors to plug the Palm into the ass-end of this Samsung feature phone I had back then, so I could use the phone as a modem and dial in to a modem when I was on vacation, which almost worked.

Around 2001 or 2002, I took a half-step in that general direction, and upgraded to a Handspring Visor Prism, and got the Visorphone. The Visors had this cartridge port on them called the Springboard port, and the Visorphone was this sick attachment that  snapped on the back and essentially turned it into a cell phone.  And the Visor could use the phone for data, so you could fire it up and get SMS messages on your phone, or send out an email.  The Visorphone sounded like the coolest thing since the Boba Fett action figure with the shooting rocket pack that some stupid fucking kid shot down his throat and got the whole thing banned, but it was a total piece of shit.  It had its own battery in it, and you had to charge it separately from the main unit.  The software was barely integrated correctly, so it almost worked as well as one of those piece of shit Jitterbug phones.  And your monthly bill of 40 or 50 bucks came with just enough minutes to download and delete about four of your spam email messages.  Plus it got me locked into a T-Mobile contract, which was absolutely craptastic.  I did use the Prism for a while, and it was a nice step up from the IIIx, but I did miss the sleekness of the old Palm, the little fliptop case that reminded me of a Star Trek communicator, and the fact that it ran forever on AAA batteries.

I also owned Palm stock briefly.  I probably don’t need to explain how that went.

I sold the Handspring to a coworker, and jumped to a Sidekick, which, despite the fact that it was designed for emo 14-year-olds, had its shit together as far as data integration.  It was essentially useless as a phone, but I don’t like talking on the phone, and preferred getting the data-only unlimited plan and spending all day in AIM or browsing the web.  I did briefly consider getting a Treo when everyone else got Treo fever, but talked myself out of it.  Years later, when I was at the big S, we got a couple of Palm Pre units when they came out, and I spent twenty minutes screwing with one, long enough to lock it up two or three times.  I’d already moved to the iPhone by then, and it was the perfect solution I’d waited ten years for, so I was pretty nonplussed.  The WebOS UI had some nice features, but in a world where everyone had Ataris and Commodores, I didn’t want to buy a Coleco Adam because it had a neat keyboard.

I was thinking about all of this, and what happened to all of my old Palm files, and I remembered I used a program called jpilot on linux to sync my old devices.  It made a .jpilot directory, and it turns out I have two full backups of my old Palm’s filesystem, one from 2000 and another from 2001.  It is a total mindfuck to see what I carried on the thing back then.  I’ve got a list of DVDs I wanted to buy; a list of books to research later; and there’s an attempt at a journal that’s mostly a list sorted by date of when I was having panic attacks.  There’s an itinerary from a February 2000 trip to San Diego, and a copy of an early draft of my second book in PDB format.  I have all of the applications that were installed too, from a universal remote app to an R2D2 sound generator to some app that takes a Manhattan street address and tells you the cross streets.

Sometimes I wish I never kept things like this, because now I’m going to spend the next two hours digging through these files.

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Strange Nostalgia for Lost Electronics

I get a lot of shit for the “museum of obsolete technology” I have in our storage locker right now, the electronic toys I’m paying $30 a month to not see.  But I’ve pared down almost all of that inventory now, and it’s down to a single C-64 and 1541 drive, and a Sony Magic Link PDA that I bought on eBay and will probably never be able to connect to the internet.  I’ve given up on collecting, but I’ve still got that collector’s gene, and if I had unlimited space and unlimited budget, I’d probably spend all day and night on eBay, trying to buy back every piece of electronics I ever owned and every gadget I ever coveted, until eventually the hosts of Hoarders showed up at the house to film a two-part special on me.

I found this site a while back called Wishbook Web, and it’s extremely dangerous for me.  It’s scans of a bunch of department store catalogs, like Sears and Monkey Wards, which is great, because those things have largely been landfilled and there’s no archive of them anymore.  When I was a little kid, I would spend the entire year memorizing these catalogs, poring over the toy sections until the pages fell apart.  I guess now kids can just get on the web and go to Amazon and look this stuff up, but I would scrutinize these things like a NASA engineer trying to figure out why the latest Mars lander crashed.  Me and my sisters used to fight over who got to read each catalog, and instead of wish lists, my parents tried to institute some kind of system for us to denote what stuff we wanted that year.  It involved one of us putting boxes next to things, and the other annotating with circles, or maybe it was stars.  Anyway, I’d just mark the entire Lego section and any single thing that said Star Wars in it.  And of course, all new toys had come out before the actual holiday, and we’d have to revisit our greedy little lists based on the commercials shown during the Saturday morning cartoons.

So at least two of these catalogs came out during the prime of my childhood, and I can still tell you almost every damn thing on every page.  Going back to these again is like going back to a home town after twenty years and still being able to find your way around.  It’s also interesting to see how much the times have changed as far as copy goes, because I could write better stuff in my sleep.  Anyway, when I first found this URL, I went through every page, trying to find the stuff I used to own, and the things I really wanted but never got.

Here’s a good example of this: the stereo I had as a kid.

When I was little, I had one of those crap record players with the removable lid and the plastic handle on the side, the kind with the speaker built into it.  My parents had a “real” stereo record player with separate speakers, but I had to listen to my read-along books and Disney records on this orange cardboard piece of shit.  When I was in maybe the 6th grade, I asked for a “real” stereo for Christmas, and I got item #2 from the picture above, taken from a Sears catalog.  And at the time, this was about as technologically advanced as the computers from Minority Report.  It had a record player AND a tape player AND a radio AND an 8-track.  Not only could I record songs off of the radio, but I could make tapes of albums.  And the speakers were separate, the kind of thing you plugged in and sat on shelves in the corners of the room.

The 8-track was a bit of an oddity; this was like the last death rattle of the failed format.  This stereo had a front-loader, and it had the program button, which jogged the tape heads sequentially across each of the four tracks of an album.  But it didn’t even have a fast-forward or rewind button.  Our family had no 8-track tapes, so we went to the Sears at Pierre Moran mall, and found them liquidating the remainder of their 8-tracks at some ridiculous price, like maybe four for a dollar.  These were all “cut-outs”, items with a groove cut in one side because they were returned or whatever, and they were pretty picked over.  I think I ended up getting a Steve Martin comedy album, a Ringo Starr solo album (I had no idea who the Beatles were, except in the most conceptual of terms), and a Jefferson Airplane album.  Much later, my mom’s second husband had a collection of a few 8-tracks, with the only notable ones being the first Cheech and Chong album, and Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick.  (Albums with only two side-long tracks didn’t work as well for a format where an LP was essentially divided into four; I’m not sure how they handled that.)

I had almost no budget for music, so I spent a lot of time trying to record songs off the radio, which was a maddening process.  I’d listen to U-93, the local top-40 radio station, and hope some song I liked would get played.  There were a whole slew of problems that would occur: the tape would not be queued to the very end and I’d erase some previously recorded treasure; the idiot DJ would babble on about being the 93rd caller for a set of free tickets to a monster truck rally; I wouldn’t recognize the song until 30 seconds in, and then only record half of it; the song would fade into some other stupid song I wouldn’t want, and I’d have a pristine copy of this Journey song I really wanted, except the last ten seconds would be fused to the beginning of a Toni Basil song.  (Yes, that song, which I won’t even mention by name or it will be stuck in your head forever.)  It would take me maybe a month or two of diligent listening to fill one side of a C-90 with useful tunes.

The big shortfall to this new hardware was that it only had one tape deck.  Most of the new stereos coming out had two decks: a play-only unit, and a player-recorder.  And my unit was a “closed” system, without an AUX input or any sort of input jacks.  Most of my friends would buy their albums on cassette tape, and I had no way of making copies of them.  My best hopes were either to have a friend that had a dual-tape deck who would be willing to make a dub for me, or find someone who bought everything on vinyl and would let me borrow their album.  Another problem was that I had no way of recording from the TV.  I watched an insane amount of MTV back then, and I would have given anything to capture some of their new music on cassette for repeat listens, especially since they played much cooler stuff than the behind-the-times station in my redneck Indiana town.  I remember trying to record a Genesis concert off of MTV by holding my sister’s little jambox up to the TV cabinet, which worked about as well as taking a picture of the night stars by dragging a photocopier outside and making a copy with the lid open.  (My sister later tried recording some song on MTV – that “don’t put another dime in the jukebox” song, and every time it would come on, I would yell at the dog and she’d start barking, totally screwing up the recording.)

It’s always interesting to me how we have such a tactile nostalgia for old technology like this.  Like I’ve got an old cell phone sitting on my shelf, a Windows Mobile phone I used for maybe six months before I wised up and got an iPhone.  And I hated that phone at the time, but it was my daily driver, and I used it constantly, for email, google maps, web browsing (or what approximated web browsing in a crippled version of pocket IE).  And I pick it up now, and its heft, and the feel of its keys, and the glint of its display remind me so much of that period in late 2008 and early 2009 when this thing was permanently attached to my hip.  And I get some of that when I look at pictures of old technology like this.  I remember the smell that stereo had, the new electronics smell of components heating up for the first time.  I remember the snap of the silver knobs going across their detents as I cycled through the inputs.  I remember playing with that tuning knob endlessly, trying to get a clear signal on WAOR so I could record Dr. Demento on Sunday nights.  I haven’t seen this stereo in at least 25 years, but I think if I found one at a garage sale, it would instantly transport me back to 1983 again.

Anyway, that’s my story.  Now I must go waste the rest of my writing time finding this stereo elsewhere on the web.  I’ve just found there are a ton of eBay sellers with demo videos of their wares on youtube, with many similar stereos.  Not sure which is worse, the waste of money and space hoarding this stuff, or the waste of time finding it.

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I’d hate to be a piece of furniture in Steve Ballmer’s office this week

The Mac App Store launched Thursday, and Herman Miller stock went up two points in anticipation of all of the chairs Steve Ballmer has probably been throwing at people this week.  There’s no way the sweaty-pitted Microsoft CEO isn’t beating his middle managers like red-headed step-children after the news came out that people downloaded a million apps in the first day, with 10,000 apps available at launch.  The Mac App Store changes things in ways that people in Windowsland cannot even contemplate, although when Win7SP2 launches with the MSFT half-ass attempt of the same concept, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the greatness, just like we’ll hear about how great judicial advocacy is from Teapotters that have railed against it for the last two years when they need it to keep Guantanamo bay open.

The Mac App Store changes things in a big way, both good and bad.  Back when I got started in this industry, if you wanted to write and sell an application for a Mac (or a PC), you rode your dinosaur to work, hired a bunch of people to put your crap on floppy disks and into boxes, and then either sold it yourself in your local computer stores (kids younger than 20: imagine a Best Buy with only a computer section, that didn’t suck), or you got your retail boxes dumped into the channel and flushed out to big stores and catalogs.  (Catalog: a paper version of Amazon, but it took 4-6 weeks to get your stuff.)  Then the internet happened, and people sold software on web sites, where you somehow sent money and either got a download or got a CD-ROM sent to you through the pony express for later installation at your own leisure.

But if you had this great software package, you had this huge list of problems.  Gotta set up a web site.  Gotta get a shopping cart system in place.  Gotta take credit cards and get a merchant account and whatever SSL nonsense your ISP wants you to get.  Or, gotta bend over and spread for PalPal’s cut of the vig.  Gotta find a way to have a download center that isn’t just at widget.com/dontlookhere/dl/product.zip so the first person that buys your crap doesn’t just spam the magic link to the world and let everyone download.  Gotta come up with come crazy system of software enablement, serial numbers you type in and send securely, whatever obfuscated nonsense you need to keep the world from just emailing your ZIP file to all of their friends.  Gotta find a way to drive traffic to the site.  Gotta find a way to get people to return to the site for upgrades and new versions.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to consider, and either every software reseller reinvents the wheel, or you join some tribe or cabal or commune or collective or whatever else to use one common set of machinery for everyone’s releases, and you pay for the privilege.

So now you avoid all of that.  Pay Apple a hundred bucks to join, upload your DMG file, and you’re in a searchable, centralized catalog of apps.  When a new Apple user fires up their iMac for the first time, there’s a pretty little icon to click that brings them to a huge store filled with games and productivity apps and stuff people can click on without scrambling for their credit cards or signing up for yet another e-merchant account that will probably eventually get hacked, with your password and Visa number and home phone ending up in a torrent sent out to every script kiddie in the world.

There’s also the issue of central maintenance.  When you have to push out a patch, you don’t spam out emails, and you don’t have to write complicated code to beam back to the mothership and check if the latest version is installed on the user’s PC. You tell Apple you have a new version, and let them do the dirty work.  And when a person bricks their MacBook or spills juice in their iMac and has to go get a new machine, they just plug in their username and all of their apps magically download again.  There isn’t a two-month process of trying to remember all of the crap you installed, or a weekend-long backup and reload on an external drive or a pile of DVD-Rs.

Yeah, there are downsides.  You’re paying Apple that hundred bucks, and they’re also skimming 30% of the take on your sales.  But do you know how much banks take from mom and pop companies on merchant accounts?  I’d tell you, but there are like 79 different surcharges and monthly fees and address verification fees and machine rental fees and every other nickel-and-diming the banks can think of to hit you with.  That 30% erases a lot of headaches.  And compare it to how much of a discount you’d give in channel sales, and it’s not a bad deal.

There are all of the “walled garden” arguments you’ll hear from the Microsoft camp.  You’ve heard the same arguments since the App Store showed up on the iPhone, although you haven’t heard as many of them since Windows Phone 7 adopted the same exact strategy for their app store.  And you probably won’t hear much more about it after that Windows 7 Platinum Home Deluxe SP2 Zune Marketplace shows up in the next rev of their OS, providing the same exact walled garden, albeit with a lot of the wall’s pieces removed to appease any of the big software makers that balk.

I think by the fall, everyone at every point of the food chain is going to try to launch their PC app store.  Amazon’s probably brewing one; I’m sure all of the hardware manufacturers like HP and Dell are going to have a long, painful meeting this Monday where some idiot who has never installed software in his life but can wear a mean tie and gets all of the ZDNet headlines beamed to his Blackberry is going to pitch their genius idea to launch their own bundled crapware app store on their new computers.   App stores will be the add-on toolbar of 2011, just like they were for phones in the last 18 months.

Another argument that is a plus and a minus is what the hell this will do to pricing.  People are now used to paying 99 cents for a game on their phone, so good luck on putting your desktop game on the App Store for $79.99.  Sure, you can trim down that price a bit because you’re not paying $47 a copy in merchant account fees to Bank of America.  And your game is some one-gig DVD release and not just a two-screen screen-tapper you wrote in a weekend.  It’s going to cause unbundling of suites, like Apple is doing with iWork and iLife, where people will only buy the apps they want, at a lower price and a smaller download, instead of buying a full package of apps on a DVD.  I don’t know what the magic price point will become, although I’m guessing people will be less apt to buy a $99 app and more willing to pay something like $19 for Real Apps and $4.99 for games and entertainment.

I just got the update and installed the App Store, and gave it a quick drive to download the new Twitter client.  No problems, no surprises.  I haven’t bought anything yet, but when I get a free second (which will be in like June) I will probably hunt down the latest versions of some of the older registered payware/shareware I have, just to make the next update easier.  All I can tell you now is, I’m glad I’m not working at a hardware manufacturer that’s probably going to go on damage control and require all of its R&D center employees to waste a lot of their free time generating stupid powerpoints re-selling an already done idea.  Also glad I’m not driving across the 520 bridge every morning to potentially have a 57-pound Aeron chair thrown at my head.

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iPad

I now have an iPad. Sarah surprised me with one for our anniversary, and I’ve only had a bit over a full day to play with it, but I think it’s a pretty damn revolutionary device. I had my doubts when it came out, especially because I already had a very capable iPhone for pocket-oriented computing and a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro for my full-time yet portable workstation. So what the hell do I need a tablet for?

Okay, first, the hardware itself: technically, it’s pretty solid – very thin, very light, seamless usability, and flawless integration with the other Apple stuff I have. The display is amazingly clear and the perfect size. The iPhone in general has pretty decent speed, or at least the perception of speed. I think that’s an important difference; I’ve used Windows Mobile phones that were CPU giants, but still stuttered and clunked along because nothing was seamless, and you were mushing your way through endless layers of lipstick on a very well-hidden pig. The iPad is an order of magnitude faster than the original iPhone from a hardware perspective, although it’s not running a version of iOS that’s as optimized as it could be. (It also doesn’t multitask yet, like the latest iOS 4 machines.) But going from app to app is pretty damn snappy, and I never really hit any stutter or pause or other issues.

Web browsing on the iPad is pretty much perfect. It makes the ideal machine to use when sitting on the couch or in bed, and that’s pretty much the use case for this, as a sort of appliance computer, like those things in Star Trek that you just whip out when you need to look up technical information about dilithium crystals. It’s weird that the machine has no natural “up” direction, and it doesn’t care if you hold it landscape or upside-down landscape; it corrects itself just fine. And something I didn’t notice for almost a day: it has a lock button that locks the orientation, so when you’re sitting in bed on your side, it doesn’t flip orientation on you, which is one of my annoyances when I sometimes check my email on my phone before getting out of bed in the morning.

I think the weird thing about the iPad is just that it’s so polarizing of a machine, because it’s a niche machine in price and marketing, but it does so much from such a simple design. It’s not a specialized device like a phone, that makes calls and stores contacts, and then the solitaire game and calendar are an afterthought shoehorned into its form factor. It’s very much the 90% of what you’d do on a computer, sitting in front of you in this 680-gram viewport into a digital world. And the tech world is divided between people who get this, and people who don’t. It’s always been true of Apple products for a while, but the iPad is the clearest line in the sand.

The deal is, a lot of people judge technology quantitatively. It has to do the most; it has to have the most RAM; it has to have the highest benchmark; it has to have the most megapixels. It’s classic penis-waving at its best, and it’s a very right-wing sort of way to view the world, because you can have a one-megapixel camera that takes far better pictures than a crap 10-MP plastic-lens, cheap-chip camera built into a cell phone. (Don’t believe me? Take a look at any image from the Hubble space telescope. That thing has a camera smaller than one megapixel. Yeah, it’s sitting behind a few million dollars of optics, and its images are typically pieced together with expensive software from hundreds of exposures, but it’s a good example that the raw megapixel-to-megapixel comparison is flawed.) It’s a lot like shopping for a car and only using horsepower and torque as your only metric for performance. Which is a nicer car to drive, a used Dodge Ram pickup truck, or a Maserati Quattroporte? The Dodge has more horsepower and more torque, but it’s not quite the same overall experience. I feel the same way about people who go on and on about how their computer or their phone has more memory or more storage or whatever – that’s great, but when you’re running an OS that’s bloated and runs code to meet some legacy requirement set up in 1989, it’s not the same deal.

And when I google around various iPad news, I see a whole lot of “well it can’t do everything my desktop computer can.” Of course not. You can’t haul lumber or strap six kiddie seats in the back of your Ferrari 458 Italia. But does that mean you have to drive around an extended-bed truck every time you need to run to the store for milk, just because once every other month you need to pick up a pallet of drywall? I saw someone in a thread bemoaning the iPad because you couldn’t rip CDs on it, which is an absolutely asinine argument. It’s like arguing against the adoption of the car because it won’t give your horses exercise. You don’t need the horses if you have a car; you don’t need to rip CDs because you can just buy music from iTunes and zap it across the ether a million times faster than trying to actually find a store that still sells CDs that don’t suck.

It’s the same argument when someone says “there are 18,273 programs to burn DVDs on Windows but only a couple for the Mac”. But when I need to burn a DVD, I don’t want to have to spend a week shopping for authoring software and memorize what IRQs are in use on my system and read the entire history of laser-written media; I want to put in a blank disc and click a button and that’s it. I don’t care if the hardware is ten percent slower, if it saves me hours and hours of tech support insanity.

Anyway, that’s the story. I’m sitting on the couch and tapping away and in a second I’ll zap over to see how the game went. This thing is truly awesome.

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Computer inventory, fall ’10 edition

Okay, so I mentioned my computer count had grown over on my Facebook page, and Bill asked me a bunch of questions about what’s what, so here’s a quick rundown, in reverse order of age:

  1. Lenovo ThinkPad T410 – the new work machine, running Windows 7.  Maybe this doesn’t count because it’s not mine, but it’s here 100% of the time now.  The hardware is pretty nice, with a lot of extras: 3G modem, DVD burner, 4 GB memory, a million ports I’ll never use.  But man, Windows 7 sucks.  I’ve spent far more time trying to figure out why the hell some 32-bit software won’t work, or why you can’t install 64-bit Visio and 32-bit Office at the same time, and why they insist on you installing 32-bit office on a 64-bit machine, and so on.
  2. MacBook Pro – My main machine, a 17″ 2010 Unibody with the fastest i7 CPU, 8 GB memory, and a half-terabyte of disk.  I absolutely love this machine, and it’s an example of how to move from 32 to 64 bit without turning your entire life sideways.  Other than reinstalling all of my MacPorts stuff, it Just Worked.  This machine is home to my iTunes library, my pictures, my writing, and pretty much everything else.
  3. MacBook Pro – Sarah has the 2009 17″ model.  Not sure of the processor, but it’s not the fastest one, and it has 4GB.
  4. Samsung NC10 – A tiny netbook, with a tiny screen and almost no memory, still running XP.  It’s next to the bed, and I mostly use it when I’m sitting in bed reading.  It’s also a nice travel machine, because it’s so light, gets incredible battery life, and if it gets stolen, the bag it’s in is probably worth more.
  5. MacBook – My old 15″ white 2007 model.  I don’t use this much anymore, but maybe every few weeks, I find something that I need on it or that won’t work in Snow Leopard.  For example, I still use it to import video, because I’m too cheap to go buy a different FireWire cable.  And until a week ago, I couldn’t get our scanner to work with the new Macs.  (Turns out if you swear at it enough, you can get Preview to scan stuff.)
  6. Toshiba Portege Tablet – This is a 2005 model that has convinced me that as long as it runs Windows, Microsoft will never get a tablet to work.  (A Windows Phone tablet?  Maybe that would work.)  It’s no longer running XP Tablet, because it needed an XP reinstall, and the included media won’t work.  It’s sitting next to my couch downstairs, and it’s a dedicated IMDB and baseball score machine.

Other computers-that-aren’t would include two iPhone 3Gs, a PlayStation 3, a Kindle, and maybe you could count the NAS I have in the closet.  (It takes up an IP address, anyway.)

The tablet is on its last legs, and the MacBook will eventually get fully retired.  I sometimes wonder if I just used an iPad for casual web browsing and travel, if I could get rid of everything but the MBP and work laptop.  But as I become more convinced an iPad would be an okay purchase, I get more in the hole with this move.

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A cautionary tale of incompatible formats

In 1998, I got a new credit card in the mail and after thinking about how many photocopies I could make for $1500 or if that was enough to buy like one sixtyfourth of an acre in some deserted forest, enough to build some kind of treehouse-esque unabomber shack, I suddenly realized that I had the insane desire to buy a MiniDisc recorder.  So I rushed over to The Good Guys, this old Best Buy-esuqe electronics store, and bought a Sony MZ-R50 and rushed home and recorded Joe Satriani’s Crystal Planet onto a blank disc.

(Reasons significant: 1) Joe Satriani recorded his first album after receiving a credit card in the mail; 2) He was signed to Sony, and I think a song of his was in a MiniDisc commercial, not that there were tons of those in the US; 3) I had recently broken up with a girlfriend, and the reason I broke up with her, or the catalyst at least, was driving two hours to Portland with Ryan in his Miata to see Joe Satriani, listening to CP the whole way there, and both of us bitching about our respective girlfriends and vowing to somehow escape the situations, only I did and he did not.)

I did not have a good way to record digital to digital for a long time, and the MiniDisc required you to record stuff in real-time – you didn’t just download a bunch of MP3s and dump them to the disc.  You also had to carry around however many discs with you, and if you brought three and went to work, you were guaranteed to be sick of all of them by the time you got to the train station.  I vividly remember going on an awful first date with a lowtalker who produced feminist programming for cable access and still lived with her mom and wanted to go to dinner at a soup restaurant and then go to see this movie about white supremacists, and then I really fucked things up because the movie interviewed all of these white supremacists in Bloomington, Indiana, and while they’re talking to these guys about the evils of Jews, they’re all drinking out of Pizza Express cups and I’m like HOLY SHIT THOSE ARE PIZZA EXPRESS CUPS I HAVE LIKE 90 OF THOSE IN MY APARTMENT.  She was still somehow interested and kept calling and I eventually told her I was in love with someone who lived in LA, which was partially true anyway.  So after this first date, I had to walk her to her car at the cable access thing, and it was like eleventy billion blocks from the train station.  And the only MD I had with me was a best-of from Millions of Dead Cops, which is like 27 songs, a dozen of them being “John Wayne Was a Nazi” and the rest being entirely unintelligible 22-second long songs.  And I think I listened to it nine times on the walk back to the train.  And that’s why I got an iPod.

I have an 80GB iPod and it’s almost full, and it’s also lasted longer than any other, which means it will fail soon.  It is my damn lifeline for morning traffic though.  Is there something that will hold more music that I need to get?  Maybe I need to get a bunch of iPods and put them on a bandolier like Chewbacca.  If they made an iPhone that could fit 80 GB I would just do that.  Maybe when the drive dies in this (inevitable) I will find a way to hack it into a socket that I can hot-swap a bunch of different drives.  Maybe I will just wise up and say “why the fuck do I have all of these Charlie Parker albums and I only listen to two of the songs, so fuck it” and get the collection down so it will fit on my iPhone.

I’ve still got all of this MiniDisc crap in my storage locker.  I think if I had infinite time I would make some kind of art project out of it, like make a MiniDisc-based mellotron keyboard. Someone did a movie about the mellotron, a documentary, which I guess is a lot better than my last attempt at a documentary.  I got blindingly drunk in Laguardia airport, then had to fly to Pittsburg via Cincinnati Ohio (which is really in Kentucky, the airport I mean) and so I got to OH/KY and had a few more beers and decided I was going to make a concept movie about the moving walkways in the airport and started filming The Walkway is about to end, which is basically me sitting on the floor by the end of the walkway, and every ten seconds, a robot voice says “the walkway is about to end!” and every single person that walks past ignores it and stumbles when the moving ground becomes non-moving ground, and the whole thing is an important metaphor for something, but then I started to sober up and had to catch a plane to Pittsburgh and that’s the end of the story.  (The footage for that is in my storage locker, too.)

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Requiem for an iPhone

Well, my must-last-two-years-according-to-AT&T iPhone 3G just crossed the magical Apple rainbow at nine months.  It was working fine, but it started developing a crack in the back case, just above the dock connector.  It probably could have lasted another year, but I figured I would make the trek to the Apple Store and see if they would swap it for a new one, even if I didn’t have AppleCare, and they did.

First, if we’re in a recession, it sure didn’t look like it in the Bay Street Apple store.  They were wall-to-wall with people grabbing Apple gear for the holidays.  I’m curious what their actual numbers are for sales in the holiday season, and also curious if these new Microsoft stores are doing anything comparable.  Anyway, I made an appointment for the genius bar, and managed to get in at exactly the specified time.  And the swap was no hassle.  Thanks to the whole iTunes-centric backup recovery paradigm and the fact that I backed up right before leaving, the whole thing went almost seamlessly.  (Only exceptions: my WiFi and voicemail passwords vanished and had to be re-entered when I got home.)  I also sprung for AppleCare, just in case, and a new screen protector, which they installed for me.  (It’s pretty much impossible to put on an adhesive screen protector in a home with a long-haired cat, unless you don’t mind staring at a few stray cat hairs on your touchscreen for the rest of the protector’s life.)

What’s weird is that while the Apple genius boxed up my old phone and got ready to pitch it off to whatever Chinese landfill/salvage dumping ground old iPhones go to at the end of their lives, I felt slightly emotional about seeing it go.  Granted, I got an exact clone of the old model, and it even looks identical because it’s in the same old case, but I still felt slightly sentimental about seeing it go.  I think part of that is because this is one of the first cell phones that wasn’t just a vague utensil I occasionally used to make calls, but an actual fully-fledged computer that I used for a wide swath of applications within my somewhat-connected life.  I mean, I really used the camera; I listened to pretty much every Rockies game I could this season, and when I couldn’t listen, I followed along in the MLB app; I sent and read many an email; I used it as a real web browser, not a postage stamp approximation of a web browser; I found myself texting a lot more than I typically would; I even wrote a few blog posts on it.

I guess there’s always been this lack of a suspension of disbelief in my use of a palm-sized computer, either because it didn’t do what I wanted, or it had such clunkiness in what it did do.  Like, I used to have a couple of Palm OS non-phone devices, and while those were decent phone books and occasional game machines (mostly Dopewars), there was a big line to be drawn with all things connected, because there was no way for me to surf the web or read emails on those things.  Yes, you could attach on some giant pack the size of the actual device and sort of use it as a crappy cell phone, and maybe run an email program that barely worked, but there was a pretty hard stopping point in the usefulness of these machines, and it was clear that I would also need to carry a cell phone and a laptop to be semi-functional in the field with these.

I guess now we’re truly reaching this age where we can have a palm-sized computer that can really run apps and really do things and because of that, I feel the same kind of emotional (and somewhat stupid) bond I feel toward some of the primary computers I have in my life.  I mean, when I finally kicked to the curb my entirely obsolete PC that was my primary writing machine from 1991-2001,  I felt a bit of remorse to see that beige rectangle go to the garbage, even if it was fully useless even as a doorstop by the time it went in 2005.  There were many good memories of that thing sitting on my desktop as I chipped away at various books.  And I felt the same kind of nostalgia as that tiny black piece of plastic and glass (which probably had more CPU and memory than said PC) got sent back to the void.

And a side note, iPhone wise – I was tapping away while standing in line at Taco Bell, and curiously got a WiFi connection and didn’t know why.  Then I realized I was standing next to a Starbucks, which has an AT&T hotspot, and at some point I logged in at a different Starbucks, and the new magical AT&T hotspot connector mojo worked without interaction.  That sure beats the old days of having to enter a thousand characters of login info, including a password you can never use or remember.