The Lizards will Eat your Young
The technological bait and switch
I’m a fan of the television series V, an updated version of the 1983 series of the same name whereby reptilian invaders, with cloned human exteriors, have appeared in gigantic spaceships orbiting Earth. They build trust with, and dependency by, humans before dropping the hammer on them.
Is that so different from the technology world?
When I bought a slim analog cell phone from Audiovox in the mid 90s, I could never bring myself to use it much, as the quarter-a-minute rate for a static-infested call was too steep for my liking. But of course competition, quantum leaps in technology, solid networks, and cheap handsets have set the cellular industry on its ear. Drive by any grade school as classes let out and dozens of eight-year-olds are either playing Angry Birds or chewing out mom or dad for being late to pick them up.
I have an iPhone 4 and, despite the widespread attacks on their external antenna claiming drop-outs in signal strength when held a certain way (solved by a free rubber bumper), I love the device and have grown to depend upon it.
You do know the handsets are subsidized by the carriers? These sophisticated micro-computers are expensive toys, but setting the trap by baiting users to load the devices with music, games and bandwidth-sucking queries to Facebook every few minutes add up to big dollars for the phone companies.
Now, Verizon comes to bat with their version of an iPhone, and those people who have burned ATT alive for a perceived poor network are anxious to jump on the Verizon version. Not me.
Realize that the Verizon version only sort of competes with the ATT iPhone. ATT wasn’t going to sit by and let a competing GSM (global system for mobile communications) phone come on the market, and the concession made was that Verizon could only offer a CDMA (code division multiple access) version of the phone. So what?
I travel internationally, and CDMA is pretty much useless outside the USA. It’s quite nice for my family to be able to dial me up by simply tapping in my local Denver cell phone number, and the phone jingles moments later. I’ve been all the way to China and Argentina in the past year or so and have never encountered any issues.
For “non-locked” phones (this excludes most iPhones), you can buy a “local” SIM card in the country you’re in (I have one for Ireland here somewhere) and insert it in your GSM phone and have a “local” phone number in seconds. This is not generally possible with CDMA for reasons pertaining to the phone being “locked” to a specific SIM card, and the aforementioned lack of international support. I had a Motorola phone go belly up on me when I was working in Puerto Rico. I went into an ATT store, bought a “Go Phone” for $29, threw away the SIM card, and swapped my SIM card into the cheap phone. It wasn’t an elegant phone for $29, but it worked the moment I booted it up.
GSM is an international wireless standard whereas CDMA is a proprietary standard developed by QualComm.
Maybe you don’t travel outside the U.S.? You’d think the playing field would be more leveled, and if you detest ATT’s network, go ahead and get that CDMA phone. Just remember the CDMA standard doesn’t support simultaneous voice and data transmission. For smart phone users trying to look something up while talking to someone, well, that’s not gonna happen in the CDMA world.
I’m not paid by ATT, and Verizon has a great many advantages, but I travel extensively, and you want to know how many calls I’ve had dropped by ATT in the past two years? None.
Let’s turn to 3-D TV. Expect an avalanche of hype regarding this technology in the next year. Truth be told, all 3-D, whether those little stereoscopes invented around 1890, or the 3-D movies saturating the theaters, all rely on the ability to send different images to each eye. Yes, instead of the color-tinted stereo glasses from the 60s, we now have the separate images sent to you via changes in polarization using passive polarization, or the active shutter technology favored by HDTV manufactures, because only a slight investment is needed to render HDTV into 3-D with the active shutter approach. But the active shutter glasses are battery-powered, while the passive polarized glasses are just like a pair of shades (and carry with them the darkening of a 3-D movie — gee, like you’re wearing shades).
But, while you can expect 3-D gaming to be among the frontrunners in 3-D, and my DirecTV DVR lists more than a few 3-D channels, there are still challenges. First, remember what happened with 1080P high definition TV? Lots of bandwidth is required for high def, and that is why Blu Ray technology came to fruition. There is so much data that has to be thrown at you for HDTV, that the paltry content of a DVD of 4.7 GB pales next to the cavernous 50 GB for a dual layer Blu Ray disk. The HDTV thirst for disk drives at least partially explains the need to retool all digital video recorders with mombo disk drives, not to mention hi-def broadcast resolution, such as 1080P.
And don’t get me started on the viewing angle issues with 3-D TV. Maybe you have two or more children with strong personalities like I do. Now, imagine the fun when they discover the “sweet spot” for viewing 3-D TV is centered in a four-foot zone on the sofa. Left or right of that, the image degrades. At times, my kids barely can tolerate each other in the same country, let alone a four-foot DMZ. Let me put it this way: load the location of your local emergency room in your car’s GPS — you’ll be needing it.
Broadcasting 3-D content in active shutter mode also will suck massive bandwidth. So, just after broadcasters were dragged by market demand into HDTV, they now must consider retooling to accommodate 3-D TV.
Those Star Trek: The Next Generation fans in my audience today are wondering why we can’t just knock out a wall and build a holodeck. Actually, the better question is: “why can’t we just have 3-D without glasses?”
Don’t laugh: it’s been done, and may be an exciting alternative. You can never get away from the different-images-to-each-eye requirement. In all 3-D devices, the picture (as in the aforementioned stereoscope) movie, or TV, must present two slightly different images. Indeed, do a simple test. Hold up your hand and close an eye — congratulations, you just downgraded from 3-D to 2-D. It may not be apparent, but you have. Your eyes set a few centimeters apart, see objects from two angles. When your brain receives the images from both eyes, they are overlaid in the brain, and you have 3-D. People lacking vision in one eye live in a permanent 2-D world.
So, now, several companies have figured out that a special lens can be attached to a computer screen that slightly separates the output image into those two slightly-different views I mentioned. If you sit at just the right place, the image appears in 3-D. But what if you move? Well, in most cases the 3-D effect degrades and disappears with even slight movements. However, a few companies set a camera atop your computer, and monitors whether you move your head — more precisely, whether your eyes move relative to the screen. If they do, the computer changes the projection angle to accommodate your change of position. Of course, this technology is limited to one viewer.
But, as I have been fantasizing about knocking down a wall on the side of my house for my own personal Holodeck, I jolted myself back into the reality of this column: that the cycle of life for new technology indicates that great devices must be produced and perfected, early adopters pave the way for the rest of the world to buy into the concept, companies build dependence (or demand) for the product, and then change the ground rules for the use of the product, once we are addicted.
Want an example? Let’s return to the iPhone 4. I have been addicted to high-speed Internet when I’m in hotels, but still balk at the outrageous cost of $12 to $15 a day. And, when I travel with my kids, they all demand access to high speed connections as well. In most cases, and because of the way you’re connected to a hotel’s broadband, you’d have to set up a separate account for each device. So, me, plus two data-gobbling boys means $36 to $45 (plus tax) per day? I don’t think so. Instead, I purchased an Apple AirPort router for $100 and, once I pay for my Internet connection in a hotel, I set the Airport in bridge mode and now have my own Wi-Fi hotspot for the cost of a single connection. My iPhone, my laptop and their iPods, Gameboys, PlayStation PSPs, or whatever other devices they’re harboring, all can share the connection wirelessly.
Well, the new iPhone OS offers “tethering.” This takes frugality to another level. If you can tether your iPhone to a laptop, you can say ba-bye to those hotel charges forever. In essence, your iPhone becomes a very fast modem for your laptop. Ah, but the folks at ATT figured that, if they didn’t restrict tethering, they’d tax their already overburdened network. The solution: people with unlimited data plans with ATT and grandfathered into those plans and can keep them. But, to get tethering, sure to suck bandwidth and gigabytes of data, you must go on a new plan that charges you by the megabyte. Rats.
So, back to my lizards-in-waiting on the TV show, V. They are availing fantastic healthcare to we Earthlings, plus some other exciting benefits. How long before those lizards pull a switcheroo on the hapless humans and start eating them like popcorn shrimp?
Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.