Christmas and the iThing

We interrupt this blog to bring you an important breaking story.

ithing

In a surprise marketing move, at least 3 gigantic electronics companies have introduced the same new consumer product — just in time for Christmas.  The Incredibly Useless Thing was introduced simultaneously at retail outlets around the world today.  The product sold out within hours.  Immediately dubbed the iThing by every unimaginative journalist in the universe, the device has sent computer geeks everywhere scurrying back to their mothers’ basements to try it out.  According to industry spokesperson, Dakota Nebraska, the iThing comes with twice as many mega-pixels and enough speed and memory to launch the Mars Rover from your kitchen.

“We’re calling the iThing the next generation of useless electronic device.” Nebraska said. “The iThing is totally wireless, you can recharge it with the steam off your pee and battery life, with continuous use, is approximately 12 minutes.”  Nebraska Dakota went on to say, “There are already 80 million Apps available for the iThing, and even though they all fundamentally do the same thing, the iThing does come pre-programmed with some awesome coloured lights that go off and on and a variety of unusual sounds.”

The iThing uses the new Inutile Operating System, which is no different from all the other operating systems on the planet except it’s not compatible with any of the electronic crap you already own — including your toaster.  It’s unnecessarily complicated, and the Interactive Help Menu is no help whatsoever.  However, all three gigantic electronic companies are offering 24/7 tech support which is exclusively accessible from the iThing itself.  In other words, say your prayers, cuz the coyote’s got a better chance of catching the road runner than you have of ever figuring this thing out!

In a candid, off the record, interview, one techno-drone said,  “We’ve changed all the names and placement of every function on the menu — just to screw with ya.  We’ve added a Tool Bar that doesn’t do anything, and if you press “Back Slash, Gallery, Back Slash, Cap Lock,” Facebook automatically enrolls all your friends in eHarmony.  And we’ve done a bunch of other stuff, too, but why should I tell you?  You thought you were so cool in high school — with your cars and your cheerleaders.  Well, who’s laughin’ now, Braaadley?  Who’s laughin’ now?”

Initially, the iThing will be offered in two models: the cheap one you see advertised (which is under- powered and worthless) and the outrageously expensive one (which the pirates who made the device know you are going to have to buy eventually, anyway.)  However, some electronic companies are taking a bold, new retail approach.  “We don’t care about the iThing itself,” they say. “It’s free.  We’ll give you the damn thing for nothing, as long as you sign a 5-year contract of penal servitude so we can charge you for every nanosecond it operates — from the minute you turn it on.”

There have already been protests about the predatory pricing of the iThing.  A fake YouTube commercial, showing the iThing exploding, has already been emailed to everyone on the planet, and a Facebook group called “iThing Sucks” has attracted several million members.  Retailers have responded to the criticism by saying, “Big deal! A bunch of kids and old people have clicked a button on Facebook.  So what?  We’re sold out already, anyway.”

Dakota Nebraska, spokesperson for the three gigantic electronic companies, also responded by saying, “There has been some criticism, but the retail numbers speak for themselves.  This is not a manufactured shortage.  Our customers are saying they want the iThing.  Look at the unholy prices people are getting, reselling it on eBay!  But we’re all about families here at Big Electronics, and we want parents and grandparents to have something for their loved ones during the Holidays, so we’re offering an opportunity to pre-purchase the next shipment of iThings.  Your purchase comes with a numbered gift card which you can use to track your iThing through the entire manufacturing and distribution process.”  However, Nebraska Dakota also admitted that there was already a new and improved model, the iThing 2.0, in production — with tons more memory, better resolution, and a cheaper price tag — which should be in retail outlets on April 1st, 2017.

We now return you to WD’s regular blog.

 

Technology Is Not To Be Trusted

pdaNot so many years ago, I had a PDA (I still don’t know what that stands for) from Palm.  I loved that little thing.  I carried it with me like a religious icon.  It held all my worldly knowledge and then some.  It was the beginning of the end of my memory because it told me what the phone numbers were, when the birthdays were, where I was supposed to go, what I was supposed to do and even what I’d been thinking two weeks before.  It saved my pictures and played music.  I even typed out a couple of short stories on its tiny screen.  It still holds most of my accumulated life, sitting in a dark closet, silent and forlorn, replaced by a telephone that’s smarter than I am.  My PDA (I called it Oscar) was my first foray into techno-living, and it taught me a valuable lesson: information technology is not to be trusted.

Way back in the day, when Hammurabi wanted to tell his people that goat stealing was a no-no for civilized Babylonians, he made a law.  Then, in order to get the word out, he found a guy with a hammer and chisel and etched that law into stone.  It was a permanent record.  In fact, if you happen to be hanging out at The Louvre and just happen to understand ancient Akkadian cuneiform, you can still read all about it and a whole lot more — in the original text.  Three thousand seven hundred and some odd years later, Hammurabi can reach through history and talk to us in the 21st century.  Cool, huh?  This is information technology in its simplest and most durable form – and it’s universal.  For example, we know that “The Drunks of Menkaure” helped build the Pyramids in Egypt because they carved their name on a rock.  Likewise, we have Sanskrit texts from India, the famous Mayan calendar from Mesoamerica and literally tons of other information from all over the world.  It’s not exactly an Information Super Highway, but we have enough stuff to get a pretty good vibe about what was going on before Herodotus turned history into a paying proposition.  The only problem with “cut into stone” technology is you have to be standing right beside it in order to use it.  It might be permanent, but it sure as hell isn’t portable.

However, our ancestors were an ingenious lot, and after several centuries of trial and error, they came up with a portable semi-permanent product called paper.  Paper and all the information we inscribed on it served our civilization well until the 1980s when Bill Gates and Stephen Jobs killed it dead as Disco.  Jobs, Gates and the boys turned information into electricity, and we’ve been expanding on that ever since.  And therein lies the problem.

Today, I carry all I know and all I need to know in the palm of my hand – including a translation of Hammurabi if I want it.  pda1Unfortunately, without the machine to read it, I have nothing.  Not only that but if my good friends at Google decide to kill the thing (I honestly don’t know what it is) they call Android, I’m totally screwed.  Under some circumstances, I wouldn’t even be able to find my way home.  After all, it’s not like I carry maps anymore – or an address book, or an appointment calendar or even a pen.  But it doesn’t have to actually get that drastic.  For all intents and purposes, most of my (and a lot of other people’s) existence gets put on hold every time the techno somebodies change their minds.  For example, when the Palm operating system went out of business, so did I — for a while.  The information was there (somewhere) but I couldn’t see it.  It was like trying to fit my vinyl recording of Sgt. Pepper into my CD player.  (Yes, I still have both.)

Of course, these days, information isn’t even really “there” anymore.  There is no tangible place (like my old Palm) that has my sisters’ phone numbers or my doctor’s appointment or my nephew’s wedding pictures.  All these things do exist but in such specific formats that one techno-twitch either way and they disappear.  They haven’t been destroyed; it’s just that nobody can see them.  I might have all my information backed up on an SD card or Flash Drive, but without a corresponding slot to put it in or a protocol that recognizes it, my information becomes a lump of factory formed plastic.  And what happens to Grandma’s birthday party if the Cloud goes away?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a 21st century Luddite, but I keep a handwritten address book and my photo albums right beside Oscar the PDA because, these days, information might be portable but it sure as hell isn’t permanent.

 

Apple: A Misguided Religion

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on this planet who’s fed up with Apple.  Yeah, yeah, yeah — I know!  They’re the uber coolest company of all time; they invented all the iCrap that nobody but your grandma uses anymore and oh (like I could ever forget) Stephen Jobs never wore a tie!  But for God sake’s, guys!  Get over yourselves!  You’re not a religion, no matter what your basement dwelling followers tell you.  In the real world, above ground, the only difference between Apple and every other Tom, Dick and Harry tech company is price.  Apple stuff is so wildly overpriced it’s a wonder anybody at the iStores, from manager to minion, can even look at themselves in a mirror in the morning.  Saying Apple is proud of their products is like saying Kim Kardashian is a media whore.  D’uh!

Normally, I leave Apple alone.  Way back in the day, I had a Mac — I loved it – but I grew up and outgrew my burning need to “share” odd photographs, soft core porn and my particular taste in music that week.  However, yesterday (believe me, the date doesn’t matter) Apple introduced yet another new iSomething and I wondered what it was.  Then, like a perpetual old fool, I took a gander.  Apparently, this most recent Galileo moment in electronic history is a new iPad, which looks so strikingly similar (inside and out) to the old iPad as to be the same machine.  In fact, aside from a memory tweak, it is the same machine.  Yet, despite this obvious sleight of hand, the reviewers were going onapple5 as if the da Vincis down at Cupertino, CA had just revolutionized computering in the 21st century.  According to them, this was the greatest human achievement since triple bypass surgeon — at merely twice the price.  Nor were they done!  After singing iPad 4’s (4.5? 5? 29?) praises until they got writer’s cramp, they went on for seven or eight more paragraphs in speculative hallelujahs about what Apple was going to come up with next.  It was like listening to Tom Cruise talk about L. Ron Hubbard.

I’m not very tech savvy, and I don’t want to go all Dennis Miller on the thing, but let’s stop for a minute and take a look at what we’re dealing with here.  Essentially, the iPad, in whatever number sequence Apple wants to give it, is an oversized, overpriced smart phone that doesn’t make telephone calls.  It’s as big as a turkey platter with more memory than any average human being can possibly use, a camera that can pick out nasal hair at 50 paces and solid walls of Benny and the Jets sound, if that’s what you’re into.  However, with a price tag that would bankrupt a Mexican drug lord, it doesn’t give you anymore battery life or connectivity than my $49.00 Samsung – which, BTW, fits in my back pocket.  iPads are so conspicuously large you can’t manipulate them with fewer than three hands.  Plus, even though they weigh less than lunch at Taco Bell, their side to side size dictates they don’t actually fit anywhere.  This sheer unbendable volume makes a mockery of their primary purpose – portability – and there are no other redeeming features, like a workable keyboard, to compensate for that.  In a reasonable world, iPads would be the new Betamax — with a commensurate consumer shelf life.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a reasonable world.

apple3I’m not dissing Apple just for the hell of it.  I’m not a committed Android, Microsoft, Blackberry or anything else, user.  Honestly, I don’t know enough about what makes what work electronically even to have a choice.  However, I do know a con job when I see one.  For my money, when you have two items that look the same, act the same and were probably made in the same factory, but one costs more than three times as much as the other one…well…B. T. Barnum was definitely right.

It’s obvious; the real thing Apple is selling is “cool.”  So be it.  If you can sell the sizzle off a bad cut of meat, you’re a crooked jerk, but all the more power to you.  My problem is the boys down at the Apple clubhouse think they don’t put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.  And every time I mention it, I get the Stephen Jobs/Johannes Gutenberg lecture.  I agree; the guy was a genius, but that doesn’t give him (or his post-mortem company) the arrogant right to gouge everybody.  But what really burns my bacon is that even though most people outside the Apple cabal realize it’s not the one true path to enlightenment nobody is willing to admit it – except, maybe, me.