Last Updated 9/29/2002 by dickdiamond.com
I got new shoes!
I know, I'm stressing gender barriers being excited about shoes, but when your feet hurt in anything smaller than a 14EEE, finding shoes that fit is a borderline miracle. On the other hand, shopping for shoes is fairly easy as there's usually only about one pair per aisle in this size, so I just scan sizes until I see that magic "14" and then assess the looks of the shoe. Not that I can afford to be all that picky. My basic rule is: if the shoe fits, buy it.
Anyway, I've been looking for this specific shoe: a black, mid-height work boot. Since these are Timberlands, they'll probably last a hundred years, and they're lightweight and waterproof as a bonus. It would have been nice if they were steel-toed, but hey, you can't have everything in the rarified zone above size 12. And best of all, half price at DSW Shoe Warehouse. Woo hoo!
Continuing my exploits in rampant consumerism, I also got a three-pack of Mag mini flashlights. Now experiencing first-hand the truism that everything gets darker as you get older, I constantly find myself looking for a flashlight and not having one. Maybe three more flashlights will brighten my prospects of actually finding one when I need it. Ouch.
And finally, I found out that both Sam's Club and Costco now make prints from digital photos at normal reprint prices! That means, for example, that Costco will make an 8x10 (or 8x12, the proper 35mm enlargement size, if you ask for it) for $1.99, a 5x7 for $0.69 and a 4x6 for $0.19. You may notice, as I did, that this is the final shoe dropping in terms of digital photography being more economical than traditional photography. Even if you want to print an entire "roll," at $0.19 per print, the digital is at least no more expensive than traditional film. But what I find most exciting is those $1.99 8x12s. I'm going to try some of those tomorrow! Oh, and get this: they can print from either a Picture CD (e-mail me if you want to know how you can make one at home), or the original camera medium (Compact Flash, Smart Media, etc.).
I just read a typically pathetic Wired article by Nicolas Negroponte. I'd link to it, but in typically pathetic fashion, this one article is not yet available. Negroponte has enviable brand-name cachet, and yet what does he do with it? Beyond hacking out tired, trite crap for Wired once in a while, I have no idea.
I think we're supposed to think Negroponte is an "out-of-the-box" thinker, but he's far from it. He seems to me more of a cyclical Rip Van Winkle, a perpetual Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, waking up every few years to tell us how amazing things we not only already know about but have long since become bored with are. His arguments are always specious, at the same time vague and grandiose. He's very good at thinking himself into a box, to the point I begin to wonder if he even knows there is an "outside."
This particular article was about WiFi, or 802.11b, wireless networking. Aside from telling us how cool this already-tired technology is, the article is mostly about how public WiFi will replace or supercede the private cellular networks. This is the kind of blind utopianism I expect from Negroponte. Sure, it would be nice if free Internet access was available everywhere, if this kind of grass-roots installation effort could trump the ponderous, greedy, stupid telcos. Unfortunately, it will never happen, for numerous reasons. First and foremost, there are no lobbying dollars behind it. In fact, other than hardware manufacturers and consumers (traditionally powerless elements in the technology game), no one wants WiFi. Sprint doesn't want you to get your wireless Internet for free from your neighbor, and Time Warner doesn't want to carry your neighbor's traffic over your cable modem. And those are just the tip of the iceberg of examples of companies that stand to lose big on WiFi. The people that are selling commodity WiFi—Dlink, LinkSys—these companies are nobodies.
That doesn't mean no one is going to try. Sure, there are plenty of places where you can get free Internet access right now. I know people who share their broadband connection with roommates and neighbors via WiFi (just as people used to "share" cable service via coax). But this kind of adoption is mostly self-defeating. The short range of WiFi means that Negroponte's scheme relies on a large percentage of people installing base stations and connecting them to broadband. This is "cheap" compared to subscription wireless Internet access (if such a thing existed), but if someone in your neighborhood is giving out free WiFi, what's your motivation to buy the gateway and subscribe to $50/month broadband service? The network is inherently self-limiting.
An implicit assumption in all Negroponte arguments (and why he's so often wrong) is that the best technology will win. I can think of no example of this in the last 30 years. You could make significant predictions (if not a living) simply by adhering to this rule: "the best technology will never win." There are plenty of examples in all sectors of recent technology, from operating systems, to cellular phone standards to memory architecture. But there's one really good example that's actually very appropriate because it's a wireless technology, a communication technology, and many of Negroponte's "better technology" arguments should apply.
I'm talking about home cordless phones. In every conceivable way, 900-megahertz spread-spectrum digital was the pinnacle of home cordless phone technology. Compared to 2.4-gigahertz, it offered better range, better battery life, lower power requirements, better radiation safety, low interference, even the opportunity for smaller handsets. And yet 900-Mhz is considered a dead technology. If you can find them, usually refurbished, a 900-Mhz phone with all the same features of a 2.4-Ghz model will be one quarter the price, or less. At the same time it will exceed the performance of the 2.4-Ghz model in every conceivable way—double the range, double the battery life, half the radiation hazard, clearer calling. So, what killed the 900-Mhz? You did. We did. We need a constant influx of new technology—that's almost become the definition of technology: that which is brand-new. Old stuff is not technology anymore; it's just stuff (think: anything with a cord). We don't trust a $40 product when there's a $160 product that will do the job not quite as well. And besides, if 900 million of something was good, then 2.4 billion of the same thing must be better, right?
So, what will ultimately kill WiFi? Maybe just the fact that it is the best technology. It's too cheap, too good, and too easy to use. It should win, so it won't.