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©2002 — 2017

A Few Words


I Can Send Pictures
From The Phone To The Toaster
(Or, how to spend a $6 Billion research budget)

I can't count how many mornings I've stood watching the auto-start, auto-grind, auto-sweetened, auto-drink, auto-clean-the-liver and wake-you-up-right-friggin-now coffee maker make my coffee and thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if the toaster could see what I see?"

But alas, until recently, such conveniences have not been possible. Until, that is, the advent of the camera phone. That advent was, let's be honest, Earth-shattering.

I remember an advertisement for camera phones (think way back — like six months or so) that featured a car wreck. "My insurance adjuster will never believe this!" "Hang on!" Fumbles for camera-phone-toaster-oven — snaps picture. "Poof! There's proof!" Of course this is a common scenario — all too common, and obviously worth pumping billions of research dollars into an efficient and productive solution. It's a social cause.

crazy happy

However, this advertisement misses the obvious. Consider the following: Car wreck. "Hang On!" Poof. And then a piano jumps off a local skyscraper (jaded and depressed about its recent replacement by the Motorola slim-line mini-concertina- keyboard-cellular-amplification-midi-pod), barely missing your head, but clipping your phone hand, spraining your finger (close scrape there) and crushing the fresh digital representation of your staggeringly unfathomable fender-bender. Now you're really screwed because, clearly, the piano incident will go unnoticed by the incredulous adjusters, but the fender-bender photo spilled out all over the pavement in a puddle of ones and zeroes is gone forever.

What's missing? If you could have instantly beamed the Man-Ray Masterpiece photo to your toaster, microwave, or any of a smattering of smartie-pants-devices on your local wireless plug 'n' play MicroWare Daiquiri Spinner, you'd at least only have to pony up the deductible. Talk about really screwed. And we haven't even gotten to the piano disaster.

That's the thing about synthesized modern commodified music: it's dangerous. Look at how one little, forgettable, lip-synching, hoe-down live-television appearance can kill the Alka-Seltzer buzz of a seasoned professional like Ashlee Simpson. How do you think pianos across the universe feel to know that midi-recorded digitized plugins are taking their jobs. Not a good feeling, you can bet! And when the saxophones get wind of Kenny G, you better take cover, Mister.

But about the camera phone. I read this in a recent article about Bill Gates' appearance at the Consumer Electronic Show:

In one successful demo, [Conan] O'Brien took some photos of Gates with a Nikon D2X digital camera, and these were beamed seamlessly, wirelessly and automatically to a photo album on a Windows Media Center PC. Later, someone showed how the same photos could be browsed remotely using a Windows Mobile smart phone.
     -- Gates Grins And Bears It , Guardian

This is important stuff, the stuff of huge productivity advances and not to be underestimated. The problem is, the technology is only useful if you have a lot of friends who might be interested in pictures of your interview with Bill Gates (highly unlikely), or if you're stuck in a quandary with a smashed piano next to a benign fender-bender, your insurance adjuster solely interested in the latter.

So really, the technology is all about friends and pianos. I did a little research to get some more insights into the topic. There's a place called "Steve's Piano Service" that seems to specialize in accessories for moving pianos. For example, they offer:

Self-Lifting Piano Truck
Since 1901, this self-lifting moving truck has been used to move grand pianos easily and efficiently by two people.
     -- Some Link About Piano Moving

The point is, the Self-Lifting Piano Truck is made for you and me. Literally: it's designed for enabling two people to lift a piano, because, let's face it, you're not going to be able to gather up a Coalition Of The Willing (Piano Moving Division) no matter how much pizza and beer you offer. Even smooth British Pub Ales.

I contend that it's much the same with the camera phone. Consider the universally-understood torture of holiday snapshots, slideshows, home movies and the like. A good technological investment would be in developing ways that only two people had to ever bear witness to such things (carnage?), much as two people can move a 3,000 pound piano by rolling it on empty beer cans and pizza boxes.

Instead, Gates and company have been hard at work developing technologies that spread the joy of candid snapshots so far that my food processor can now share in my experiences with dental hygiene and acid reflux. Instantly. And downloadable by everyone on Earth and even the Mars Rover who seems to be holding up just fine we're all glad to hear. Will they be interested on an intergalactic scale? I'm betting not.

In fact, if you were to ask me whether I wanted to see your candid shots of DisneyLand's pre-packaged-processed-heat-and-serve historical theme park, I'd say no. No thank you, that is. Even the totally cool-rad gimmick of getting them streamed and beamed to my auto-peeler-juicer-drinker-pisser wouldn't sway me beyond the intrigue of squeezable mayonnaise and spray cheese. End of story.

The deep irony here involves the piano. The history of computing starts with, we all know, the abacus — an indispensable counting tool that got Men from all cultures past 21. The abacus morphed into the slide rule, which was developed by a trombone player. But the pianist in their jazz quintet argued that he could build a superior counting device based on a concept he called "keyboard" (the accordion player tried to make a similar case but was soundly routed by the drummer (who could only count to 4 — so much the worse for him)).

Alan Turing, a huge jazz fan in his own right, caught wind of an obscure journal publication about the ongoing "counting" debate and argued that he could develop a machine (in concept anyway) that could calculate anything you threw at it. Turns out this was only partly right because, conceptually, there was no terminus to the calculations describing the rise of reality television. His silly ideas, as a consequence, were largely abandoned. This made room for the jazz quintet to continue in their pursuits of the ultimate counting machines.

Mr. Watt, the trombonist and lifelong Democrat, lost the "W" and spun off into "AT&T", which was how he always spelled his name publicly in an effort to stave off rumors that trombone playing causes stuttering. Mr. Pibm, the pianist, lost the "M" and spun off into "Mr. Pibb" (piano playing does indeed cause stuttering), a successful rhubarb-flavored cola. His wife, Mrs. Pibm, thought that the computation device was a better business idea, lost the "P" (she was old and had incontinence issues) and so "IBM" was born. In keeping with the original concept — that the piano should be the foundation of all computation, the PC was born. PC, of course, really stands for "Piano Counter".

And so it was that modern computing devices grew out of the piano — the irony being that digital technologies now try to replace the 3,000 pound monsters because it takes too many people to move them. Hence, the spate of piano suicides (have you ever heard of one that was actually in tune) and the need for camera phones that can bounce pictures off of the Mars Rover's Jack-In-The-Box Antenna Ball, to the Wendy's drive through, a quick trip through Google's desktop search, AOL's universal-rejection spam filter, and Home Depot Self-Checkout lines, and into your insurance adjuster’s Wet-Dry Shop-Vac.

Truly, these are the best of times.

© 2005 Sorrell