the february of technology
How technology has moved in the last few years gives me some pause for thought today, along with the effect imposed by the way technology is packaged.
I’m off to London early Friday morning, on a RyanAir flight that costs less than one night in the hotel I’ll be using, and it’s not exactly an expensive hotel either. As I like to do, I’ll be hitting the “computer fairs” on Saturday, on the prowl for cheap parts. I have a list of my own, but also a request from a colleague to pick up an USB2 external HDD, something friendly like a Maxtor OneTouch II, not the pile of parts I would choose for self-assembly. If I read the prices right it will be about £120 for a 250GB drive in a package with software, a little more for the 300GB model. I might even pick one up for myself too.
Doesn’t sound like much? When I was a lad… I wasn’t feeling this old. It’s the “OneTouch” aspect that appeals to my colleague: hit the button on the box and the supplied backup software kicks in and backs up your data. I saw one in action last year and can confirm it does work as advertised. There’s some initial configuration to do, but could the user interface be any simpler? This is what I mean by packaging: making things accessible.
I would say that we, as a technological race, are emerging from a particular phase in our development: one where the technology itself was the driving force, where the aim was to get functionality out there to everyone at a low cost. We can do that now, way beyond our wildest dreams, we don’t need more power. My Compaq notebook PC is heading for the three year mark, and the hard drive has just been replaced, but it’s still incredibly powerful. (The new Western Digital hard drive slotted right in. At first I thought it had failed to start up; it was just beautifully quiet.)
Current mobile phones are a case in point. They can be miniaturized to a point where they are unusable; my last phone, before I gave up on them three years ago, was so small the microphone was halfway up my cheek, and I was moving the phone from mouth to ear during a conversation. The keypad was so small that two of my large fingers could hardly squeeze across a row of three keys, text messaging was not something I used too much. I’m not alone in worrying about cellphone usability, and so the flip phone, with the microphone in a better position, is becoming more popular. Even Nokia are doing some now, after swearing they would not. A few even have usable keyboards for email work.
I may come back from the UK with parts to revitalize my old PC, to take it from the current Pentium II 450MHz to a firebreathing AMD 64 3500+ with 1GB or more RAM and a PCI Express interface to a powerful NVidia 6800GT graphics card. (The latter might be a bit too expensive, so a 6600GT will suffice.) Do I need this much power? Of course not; it will be a total luxury to run games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator at maximum resolution with all the graphic enhancements enabled, which I can’t do at the moment. New games such as Doom III require this level of power, even though I’m not a serious gamer by any stretch of the imagination.
The point is that I can afford to do this now, and it’s a good time; a few months ago the hardware situation was far more volatile, with many new product introductions muddying the water with unavailable or pricey configurations. (“Q: Should I wait a month and pay £100 more for a 20% graphics performance improvement on some games?”) Now that the Xmas rush is over, things are looking more sensible. I’ll need to carry the suitcase and the rucksack this time, as well as my credit cards.