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The Future is More Convenient

On the bus rideĀ  home this afternoon I occupied myself by reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. (It’s a book worth reading. It may even possibly, perhaps get its own blog post in the future – maybe.) While reading, I came across the word encephalitic. I had a vague idea of what it meant, but I wanted a better understanding. I lay my book down and I pulled out my Nexus One (for those with technology agnosia, that’s a smartphone) and used it to pull up the Wikipedia page for encephalitis. If you’re web-savvy enough to be reading a blog, then you should know how the Wikipedia rabbit hole works. Still, for my readers that don’t know (Mom): halfway through an article, you find a link to another interesting article. That leads you to another, the process continues. In the end, you have a dozen open windows and a lot more trivial knowledge than you had thirty minutes ago.

The encephalitis article had a link to an article on photophobia. I know someone who suffers from this, though neither one of us was aware of the medical term. With a few taps, I texted them the link. The encephalitis article also had a link to an article on Oliver Sacks, the author of the book I was reading, so of course I followed that one. The article on Sacks mentioned his book Musicophilia, which I would like to read. That reminded me that I had not completed my order when I was sitting at my computer shopping for books on Amazon this morning. I switched to the Amazon App, added Musicophilia to my shopping cart, removed another book that I had added (from my home computer) this morning, and completed checkout. The article also mentioned that another Oliver Sacks book, Awakenings, had been made into a movie. I switched over to PhoneFlicks, an app that allows me to manage my Netflix account, and I added Awakenings to my queue. This all (research on Wikipedia, texting the link, ordering the book, queuing the movie) took about 15 minutes.

After doing all of this, I had to take a moment to appreciate the convenience that this one piece of technology has brought into my life. Decades ago, our visions of the future involved flying cars, colonization of far off planets, and other ideas that seemed exciting. In reality, the technology that is changing our culture is the technology that makes things more convenient for us. A flying car would be cool for a while – but a device that let’s me spend 15 minutes to accomplish what would have once required a trip to the library, the bookstore, and the video store is a device that is more than just cool and exciting – it’s useful.

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People constantly joke about how they have 100 (500? 1000?) different channels but they still can’t find anything to watch. Have you ever realized how true that joke is? I’ve found a much better alternative.

Netflix.

I was a member several years ago but cancelled because movies were sitting on my desk for weeks instead of getting watched. I’m home a little more now than I was back then, so a few months ago I decided to give it a try again. I am so glad I made that decision. It’s such a simple but good concept. Make a list of every movie you want to see, then they’ll get sent to you one (or more, depending on your plan) at a time. Shipping is super fast (at least in my area). If I put a movie in the mailbox before the morning pickup, Netflix receives it the very next day and I receive the next movie on my list the day after that. In addition to that, I can watch a lot of their stuff online without having to wait two days for the mail. Now I rarely find myself hopelessly flicking through channels trying to find something the slightest bit interesting.

Hmmm, this might not just be a Netflix thing. Maybe I’m becoming a convert for the subscription media thing. I just tried out the free trial of Microsoft’s Zune pass, and I will probably be purchasing a subscription. With the Zune pass, I get unlimited access to most of their catalog of music. In the time that I’ve been trying it, I’ve discovered tons of new music and found a bunch of songs that I’ve always liked but never had. I’ve been tempted to get Zune Pass for a while, but what finally won me over is the new feature that lets you keep 10 songs per month.

Yep, I think I’m definitely a subscription convert if the price and terms are right. With Netflix, the speed of shipping combined with the always-available online content makes it well worth it’s cost, which is about what you’d pay to rent two movies. With the Zune pass, $15 a month always seemed like a bit much for me considering the fact that if I cancelled my subscription, all my music would be gone. However, $15 for temporary access to the full Zune library and 10 songs to keep permanantly is a great bargain.

OK. Gushing rant over

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Mobile Blogging

I am writing this entry on my newest gadget – an ipaq 110. The ipaq is a PDA – no phone, just a PDA. Sales on phoneless PDA’s have been abysmal over the past few years, especially in comparison to smartphones. I am purposely going against the trend.It’s not that I don’t see the benefits of having one device, the problem is that when it comes to purchasing smartphones in this country, I see nothing but a bunch of bad options. Let’s see . . .

- I could’ve taken the standard path – buy a smartphone that is subsidized by a service provider. After paying a chunk of money, I would’ve been stuck with a 2 year contract, a phone that would not have worked on other networks, and a monthly bill that was inflated by data costs. To cut down on data costs, I could’ve gone with a wi-fi enabled phone, but phones with wi-fi are more expensive.

- I could’ve bought an unlocked phone which would not be limited to one network. I would’ve spent a LOT more money, and once again I would’ve been forced to choose between extra data costs and expensive wi-fi.

- I could’ve bought a network subsidized phone and then used one of the various unlocking methods to get rid of network limitations. Depending on the phone model, unlocking can cost money and it can be risky – just look at the horrible experiences many iphone users had with unlocked phones.

None of these options seems worth it to me, especially considering the alternative – a plain old PDA. My ipaq 110 has wi-fi and bluetooth. I can get online, work on my website, blog, write lyrics, and more – and I don’t have to deal with any monthly fees or contracts. Counting shipping costs, the ipaq cost about $280 (www.datavis.com) – comparable to the initial cost of some of the cheaper smartphones. If you want to factor in the other costs, you could add the data costs for the 2 years of contract time (I believe it usually starts around $20/month) and you’ll find that a $280 smartphone really costs you $568. Ouch! I think I got a good deal.

So, my hope is that my ipaq will make me more efficient. There have been many times when I wanted to do some writing, but I was not at a computer or the computer I was at didn’t have the file I wanted to work on. Now, that won’t be a problem because my computer is with me. My e-mail is with me, my RSS feeds are with me, my schedule, my lyrics – it’s all here in my hand.

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