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The story of a technology conservative...

I only just last month purchased my first personal cell phone (Samsung Magnet) and that decision pained me..why?

The curse of the Engineer, my training means that I have a bit more awareness of what is possible with a given technology when it is released..so often I find myself refusing to purchase things because I *know* the manufacturers can do much better or that something is coming down the line that will obsolete my current purchase. So rather than suffer the slow trickle of certain technologies I give them time to catch up to my standards.

During the age of VCR's (I was a teen..I reluctantly bought one in HS in the mid 80's but I knew that in 5 - 10 years the DVD would emerge to make it obsolete) so the one I bought (one of those inside the tv models) was my first and only VCR. I had read of the research being done on the DVD technology in electronic magazines available in my H.S. library. I vividly remember seeing a massive washing machine sized monstrosity of circuit boards and wires in a photo claiming this technology a video technology presented on digital compact disc format would 'soon' be in products and about 8 year later in mid 1994, it indeed was. I didn't purchase my first DVD player however until 4 years later or so in 1999 (a dual internal tray unit that I still own) and in 2003 I purchased a second one when I moved into a new apartment. The next generation video tech of HD DVD's I read about in the late 90's and didn't expect to get one any time soon (especially since screens capable of extracting the HD quality were yet on the market and would be expensive for a long time) I still haven't purchased either a "Blueray" (the player tech. I had my money on winning the "format war" that the magazines ranted about (I knew time would solve the problem by having drives that supported both formats just like the CD and DVD drives did before)

The same slow process was was taken with CD's, I bought one CD stereo unit which I still use today (I connected its aux audio to my Television for better sound quality) back in the early 90's...refused to get another one since by about 96' I started using mp3's. Around the same time cell phones started to take off and shrink, by 1999 they were so small as to be able to be held with two fingers (there was a particularly small Motorola unit I remember) ..it was around this time that I started prognosticating on where that tech. was going...that one day would come where the cell phone had a screen, input methods and other functionality and I'd wait until one of those came along before buying my own. The closest culmination of that idea was the Iphone released 3 years ago but still I didn't pull the trigger (I hate Apples proprietary strategy) and wanted a more open pc like platform for wireless devices. I remember vividly the hardware and software fiefdomes that were present as supposedly winning strategies in the early 80's. All computer makers had their own set of unique hardware that they built their devices around, many from model to model used different components, the idea of modularity was not in their best interest as keeping the customer locked into the hardware and software dependence seemed like the more profitable strategy. It actually took outside forces and the hacking community to open up the process and ironically enable computers to become the commodity , cheap and ubiquitous devices they are today. The reverse engineering of the relatively modular design of the IBM AT enabled costs for the common protocols used on the motherboard and slot architecture for the expansion cards to be amortized over dozens of Asia based manufacturers while still allowing the produced "clones" to run Windows software. This fueled the spread of windows off of the IBM machines and onto the clones and the reduced price of the clones brought the consumer into the space of buying pc. Before this act, the IBM models were expensive business focused computers but the cloning of the AT set in motion a change that soon enabled "pc's" to beat their proprietary competitors which included Apple, Atari, Commodore and several others. See this post for more on how this history is relevant to Apple and cell phones today.

The handheld computer capable of doing anything I would want in a dedicated device was the dream I held out for and we are finally at the point where such devices are being produced but there is still a huge problem that prevents a technology conservative like myself from moving forward aggressively with purchases in the space. The obscene cost for service, the wireless providers have created an ominious set of service options and plans and force users to stay in contracts when really they should be nothing more than a dumb pipe provider just as the cable companies should be for delivery of data to the home. The consumer should be able to purchase a wireless device add to it the necessary radio for the service they wish to use and then pay a single data access fee. It is particularly egregious to me that the providers charge more for data than for voice (an absurd irony that can only be truly appreciated by any one who knows how much more easily data can be compressed compared to voice) in fact there should be no such thing as a distinction as even voice is digitized and sent over a packet network over the air. Yes, you are being over charged for all those texting "minutes" so I refused to eh...bend over as it were for that treatment until the need for a phone just to triangulate with friends and family (it is very convenient) kept nagging and I finally pulled the trigger on the Magnet...which thanks to the plan option I am under only cost $27 US...it's a frustrating phone to do anything but make phone calls with but that is all I bought it for...until the nirvana of a powerful wireless device with a pay one price data rate comes out I will stick with it. Let's see how long it takes ;)

The final example of my technology conservative nature is exemplified by the recent order of a 23" LCD monitor for my workhorse computer towers (connected to a KVM). This will be my first LCD monitor/TV of any sort and like the other areas I waited so long to let prices come down and the technology move up to where it was better than CRT. Also, I tend to use my video cards at 1600 x 12000 pixel resolution or better and on a 19" that means very small text and my eyes can get strained from reading text that small for hours at a time. Though today LCD panels are thin and bright and relatively cheap (the 23" model coming only cost $208) there is another technology on the horizon that will change *everything* , the coming OLED panel revolution gave me a moments pause about buying this 23" model..but since it was so cheap and it will improve my productivity and save my eyes..I decided it was worth the investment. I started reading about OLED nearly 10 years ago, an article in Scientific American discussed the use of a bio-molecule called bacteriorodopsin extracted from a type of jelly fish that could be made to fluoresce with the right current applied. This was postuled as a great "pixel" for a future panel...fast forward and the hardware issues required to make such panels in color have all been addressed while simultaneously ensuring a very cheap production process (unlike LCD and Plasma) , high resolution, incredibly lower power output...in short the holy grail of display technologies. In 5 years 80" OLED wall panels will be routine and they *should* be very cheap to boot. *Sigh* I'll probably still bemoan my choice to buy this LCD so soon to the OLED attack in two years when the first huge and gorgeous and flat OLED models seriously ramp up in size and down in cost but oh well ...technology marches on!


Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_AT

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mp3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OLED_display

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