Tech tenure

Ten years ago, I was in a hotel in Phoenix, AZ. Pretty distinct memory – I had an Apple Newton, outfitted with a super fast 28.8K modem. That and a handy e-mail program that would access my then (free) AOL account.

The web server that hosted my page/column – pre-blog bits, part of the account included an opt-in email list. I would send the monthly column out to roughly 1,500 email addresses. Out of that, perhaps up to a 100 would bounce, and I would have to laboriously unsubscribe the whole lot – one at a time.

I had a cell phone, but I think the plan only had a total of 200 minutes in a month, that’s like, just barely three hours of total talk time.

What I recalled, from that one time, I sent the monthly mailer out, then, right before I left for the airport, to fly back to Austin, I collected the usual 70 to 100 bounce messages.

At the airport, weather – or something – caused a delay, then the flight was over-booked, and I had nothing going, so I offered to hang out in the airport, take the cash offer and free ticket home. What’s a few hours in Phoenix Sky Harbor, anyway?

I had that Newton, and I’m sure, the old PowerBook, but it was the Newton that I worked on. With the little stylus and a pack of expensive airport AA batteries, I managed to weed through the old mailing list and get the bounced material dealt with, even if I wasn’t hooked to an inter-web thing.

The Newton Message Pad 2100, what I had at the end, it was about 7 or 8 inches long, not quite an inch deep and perhaps 3 or 4 inches wide. Little flip cover, nicely engineered for a palm-sized computer, and it held contacts, calendar, note pad and email.

There was a speaker located at one end, and diagonally across from that, there was a microphone. Imagine, then, with the right stuff, it could’ve been used as a phone handset.

To make the Newton more useful, maybe to the chagrin of the original development team, a little outfit named “Palm” came up with a piece of software called Graffiti that made the original Newton, as well as its subsequent siblings, entirely more efficient. I think the software-shorthand combination made 45 WPM possible. Don’t quote me on that. However, I was admirably proficient at that shorthand.

By the summer of 1998, the Newton was gone, and I was working on a Palm III, having transfered everything over to that. Which worked well although it was only about one-third of the device that the Newton was, the Palm was more portable, and it kept notes, contacts, and astrology charts. My business, as it was. Is.

Palm III begat Visor begat Visor w/cam module begat Visor-Phone begat Palm Treo smart-phone. Mine went for a swim. Wasn’t underwater that long, you would think they should withstand a little splash in the creek.

Predictions from 2003

I went back to paper, at that point, paper and the “free” phone that goes with whatever service I was on. Sort of a step backwards, but the rumor on the street, and the price of replacing a new Treo, plus that new Treo wasn’t really Palm anymore but WinCE (Microsoft) thing.

After the first weekend with the Apple phone, I know where a lot of the complaints will be lodged. When I’m at the lake, fishing, I can use the cell-thingy to access e-mail. Works about half-fast and works three-quarters of the time – although it works better on a WiFi net, and some problems could be traced a balky server on my side. More fish would mean less time checking e-mail, too. But the e-mail drains the battery pretty fast. So does an hour-long chat with a client. And I did feel a little silly, talking while walking around with earphones in place. White ear buds and talking while wandering around in a superstore. I did get the new bait with the flavor that bass crave, though. And some more sinkers – and maybe some snickers.

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I’m certainly no judge of music or audio quality, so I can’t say whether it’s good – or not. The digital images from the camera are just fine. I’ve used a couple of them and with minimal tweaking, they’ve come out just as good a real digital camera.

What struck me the most, though, with a rubber-coated-like case around the phone gadget, it felt like a miniature version of that Newton.

There will be pundits and shortcomings will be duly noted. For one, despite the image capture feature, which is the way I like it, there’s the shutter animation on the screen – and noise. Which could get really old, really fast. Cool for the first couple of clicks, but then, shortly thereafter, the sound and software’s horsepower ceases to amaze. It’s just one animation, and I’m sure that the phone multi-tasks just fine, saving the image while the shutter animation is going.

Too many “presets” for my tastes. The even dozen icons on the main screen, while they’re okay and all, it’s not what I really need. I’d like to customize some of that. Stocks? No need. Weather? Useful, but not much more than local weather, and I’m more accurate than the weather forecaster, just by looking out the window. You Tube? Since it won’t pull up my stuff posted on You Tube, I’m less thrilled with that feature, not really useful for me.

E-mail only works in portrait mode. Bummer, that. But like the ads show, the browser and iPod do work in landscape, and that’s nice. Which brings me full circle to that Newton, same features, half the size, four times the battery life, and it’s a phone, too.

Listening to Social Distortion, The Sex Pistols, The Misfits, and The Ramones, though, I had to wonder. The music faded and I squeezed the microphone on the earbud, a client was calling.

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