Friday, January 12, 2007

I'll wait (a long time) for the $200 iPhone

Suppose you decided to pay $600 for a cellular phone with a mandatory two-year contract. Suppose, too, you were an idiot. But I repeat myself.

I'm allowed to paraphrase Mark Twain only because, while working at Netscape back in 1996, I was silly enough to purchase the high-end Motorola StarTac cell phone for just under $1000 (I don't now remember the model number), and I'm sure the sale included a mandatory contract, as well. There's no rational explanation for the purchase. $1000 was then and is now a large sum of money to me. Only two or three people at Netscape had the phone, Jim Barksdale among them, so there was a certain cachet to be had sporting the handset on your hip or at your head, which, as we all well know, is the silliest damned reason to spend money on anything, but especially on a plastic phone that will be outdated before you change out of yesterday's underwear.

Anyway, ten years on and I'm older and wiser. I discarded my Danger Sidekick II middle of last year in favor of a sleek little $50 Motorola RAZR, and I'm done with phones that double as door jams. And yet, oddly, I find myself wanting the Apple iPhone. I probably wouldn't use the WAP browser and MP3/Video player much, if personal history is any indication. Ditto with the camera, the email client, and half of the widgets that are available. I probably would use the Google Maps client, but not nearly enough to warrant the $600 outlay.

Mind you, on a purely subjective level I "like" that all the above features can be had in one relatively small device, but I wouldn't use them sufficiently, in aggregate, to justify the cost and size of the handset. Perhaps when my two-year Cingular RAZR contract expires middle of 2008 I'll look into version 2.0 of the iPhone. Should be improved in all areas, have some new features, and cost perhaps one third the current price.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Needless things I might need (had I the coin)

Of all the needless things I've needed in my time -- a blimp, a submarine, a steam locomotive and a railroad to run it on, a semi-tractor trailer, a thirteenth century castle in Great Britain, a suit of armor, an antiquarian bookshop, a golf course or two -- I think I've found the pinnacle of nerdly conspicuous consumption for the 21st century. It's not a Segway Human Transporter, not the $100K Tesla electric roadster, not the iPhone or the latest gaming console -- nothing so banal as all that.

No, for a mere $1.5M you can own a one-of-a-kind InfraStruXure Express On-demand Mobile Data Center. Built by APC, it's a computing facility built into a white 18-wheeler truck, and it's been around since 2005, though I've never heard of it before today. According to APC, "The trailer is a complete data center system. It has an onboard generator, uninterruptible power supply, cooling, network operation center, and its own satellite feed. You could park it in a cornfield in Kansas and operate a data center autonomously, as long as you had fuel in the fuel tank."

Imagine hosting your blog and email server from this rig as you travel the country, talking to people, writing, taking photographs. Think William Least Heat-Moon's "Blue Highways" on a ridiculously grander scale. Needless, to be sure.

Are you a Scrobbler?

I imagine myself something of an early adopter when it comes to new technology, with the possible exception of music, where I'm sometimes late to the party. For example, I was a very early user of Apple's iTunes software, but my wife was given an iPod years ago, back when they were truly new and cool, and combined we've used it a total of an hour or two. Nor do I have an interest in ringtones, but that may have more to do with my age than my musical proclivities. is different. It's not a service I was immediately drawn to after one or two uses, the way I was with, say, Youtube. After installing the software six months ago or more I fired it up perhaps once per week, listened to a few tunes, skipped a few, and closed the application. And that's pretty much how I still use it. Once or twice per week, usually while at work, I'm in a scrobbling frame of mind, and I've found scrobbling to be an excellent way to stumble upon new music and new artists, much of which one would never otherwise encounter. ('s Help page states, "Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to and added to your music profile.... Millions of songs are scrobbled every day. This data helps to organise and recommend music to people; we use it to create personalised radio stations, and a lot more besides.")

The UI is straightforward: Choose a genre or search for an artist and builds play lists based on your listening history and that of other users. You do not control the play list other than having the ability to skip a song you don't like, as I'm now doing with Alice in Chains "Grind" (I like some of this group's work but not this particular song). Presumably, if you listen to most or all of the song it is added to your profile and may affect your future play lists. It's that easy, and I happened upon the group Snow Patrol, a decent find, while scrobbling long before I heard them on FM or Satellite radio. You do encounter a number of dogs, as well -- I'm listenting to Bloodhound Gang's "Yummy Down on This" as I type and am hovering over the Skip button. Give it a try, discover some new music, achieve self-actualization, or simply tune out for a while.