Biting the Bullet
December 10, 2019
finally gave in and got a smartphone.
took me so long?
It was not that I was a Luddite or technophobe. We all know
better. Some of my friends will guess it's because I'm cheap.
Bell Labs engineers were selected for this characteristic,
was trained and reinforced in us. But that wasn't it either.
No, it was a matter of principle.
But I finally wore down. I have dumped my
flip phone. Even that mobile phone had been a concession to necessity,
and I had stayed stuck on "just a telephone" for a dozen years. But I
finally have a Samsung Galaxy A20 and a cell service with data and
is where my conscientious objector status came from, and how I
gradually got dragged into the same boat as everybody else. It tracks
the history of computers and telecommunications from 1980 to 2019,
almost forty years.
The 1981 study
position at Bell Labs included both technology forecasting and
prototyping of advanced data communications products. In late 1980, I
was asked to head a small task force to blue-sky the telecom
architectures and services of the future. I had the absolute pleasure
to have a team that included Bob Rosin, Gary Nutt, Warren Montgomery,
Soloway, Jim Kutsch, and Fred Druseikis. (Look them up, and see the
breadth of advances they were involved in. A truly inspiring group!)
"horizon" for our study was 10-20 years, putting it in the 1990s. Keep
that in mind in the following discussion. Here are some of the
implications of that starting point, and that target. It will give you
some appreciation of what we knew and didn't know, and how well we did
with our forecast.
|Feature or technology
- No cellular phones.
- Mobile phones were huge and heavy. They went in your
car, but you didn't carry them.
- Mobile phones became fairly common in the '90s, but
no smartphones until 2007.
- Mostly local airwaves.
- Cable TV existed, and over a quarter of US homes
- Solid market penetration of cable TV.
- Additional services on cable grew, like telephone
(1990), on-demand programming ('95), and
wideband data (2000).
- Satellite grew.
- Mainframes and minicomputers.
- Desktops existed in late '70s, but were not
"legitimized" for business until the IBM-PC in late 1981. We're talking
about machines like the Apple II, the Radio Shack TRS-80, and the
- Nothing portable.
- Laptop computers, folding portables with physical
- Tablets? Didn't take off until the iPad in 2010.
- Mostly command line.
- Some menu and forms interfaces; still text.
- Star Workstation (XEROX PARC) existed, but
performance and price were both unacceptable.
- You didn't sell it unless it had a Graphic User
- Windows and MacIntosh quarreled in patent court over
what IMHO was really invented by XEROX.
- No browsers, no HTML, no HTTP. So no Web.
- Invented in 1990. Didn't become an important force
until the late '90s.
|The internet. (No, it's not the same as
- Quite a few interconnected networks.
- ARPANET ran similar protocols to today's internet.
- File transfer
- The internet had been partially federally funded;
it's pretty official now.
If you're not interested
in what the study forecast, you can skip this "sidebar". I
think it's really interesting, but of course I would. So feel free to
this green-shaded section.
We took our task to be to describe the communications services
that would be called for, useful, marketable, in the future time frame.
Then we would describe the technology that could be made available in
that time frame to provide such services.
Rather than catalog communications services as a single, long,
unstructured list, we chose
to define a framework to categorize services. Our team came up with a
framework that placed services as points in three dimensions. There
three dimensions that made sense to us: media, connectivity, and time
frame. That is, any telecom application or service would consist of a
medium, a connectivity, and a time frame. For instance, plain old
telephone service (called POTS in the telecom industry) is: medium =
audio (low bandwidth), connectivity = one-to-one switched, and time
frame = immediate.j
In more detail:
- We saw communications involving audio, image, video, text, and data.
Here is how we viewed each medium:
It was assumed that the all media are digitally encoded during
conveyance within the
telecommunications system. Most media have several different possible
for instance, audio can be encoded as 16- or 24-bit PCM, 8-bit
compressed PCM, a number of MP-3 codings, etc. The system would be
responsible for accepting the encoding given by the transmitter and
delivering the coding the receiving end needs, which implies code
conversion. We will talk later about potential media conversion, in the
section on the integrated inbox. Converting from one medium to another
(e.g.- text to speech) is inherently harder than converting between
encodings of a single medium (MP3 to PCM).
- Sound. "Voice" is just a bandwidth-limited (300-3000 Hz) audio.
Obviously, this could include AM news radio (slightly larger
bandwidth), FM stereo (two channels of 20-15,000 Hz), and
- A 2-dimensional picture. We said nothing about raster vs
vector; that wasn't an issue we understood in 1980. Could be color or
B&W. Could also be 3D if and when the technology were developed
to encode and display it.
- A 2-dimensional moving picture.
- Written language, along with formatting cues. For instance, HTML
would be text; it is writing plus "tags" explaining how to
format/display the writing.
- Free-form information that the telecom system does not understand.
Only the applications at the endpoints know how to interpret the data.
- We saw four basic configurations:
fixed - A permanent connection from one point to another.
switched - Any interaction was one-to-one, but each member
of the interaction could change the connection to a different endpoint.
is a broadcast configuration. There is a "head" and a
bunch of "tails". Whatever the head says is received by all the tails.
The tails do not talk to the head, at least not at the media level.
There may be lower-level protocols that require two-way transmission.
- This is exemplified by a polled configuration. Each of the tails may
have something to report to the head. Often, perhaps usually, a
many-to-one and one-to-many service are part of the same application
and overlaid on the same physical and logical network.
frame - We limited this to two choices, immediate and
- For immediate
communication, the service is only effective if the parties at each end
are simultaneously available for a back-and-forth. Think of a telephone
call. Obviously there is some delay (at least due to the speed of
light, but usually to other mechanisms in the telecom system as well),
but any delay is treated as a degradation of the service.
- For deferred
communication, delay is a service rather than a degradation. Think
of voicemail. The point of the service is to delay the audio message
until the recipient is ready to listen to it. When we think in terms of
technology and implementation rather than service architecture, we are
inclined to think of this as "storage" rather than "delay". But "delay"
-- which is also correct -- gives a nice symmetry
Let's put together a multi-dimensional table and put telecom
services in as many boxes as we can. Where a service was already in use
in 1980, let's just put it into a box. Remember, one of the advantages
framework like this is it prompts you to invent new services to fill
boxes. Where I do that in this exercise, these new services we imagined
will be in red
There are some services common today that were unheard of in 1980 that
fit well, but that we did not imagine; let me put those in
|1 : 1
|1 : N
of a webinar
|N : 1
|1 : 1
to client feed
|1 : N
|N : 1
question feed for
One mark of a good architecture is that it can include services or
applications not anticipated by the architects. I am very pleased with
the way the green
(things that are commonplace today, but we never
dreamed about in 1981) fit into the table.
Yes, it was only 1981. But everybody on the task force was familiar
with email, each of us with at least 5 years of use. At Bell Labs, we
had UNIX mail
since the mid-1970s, and we used it routinely in our work -- just as
almost everybody does today. So we were very familiar with the idea of
a bunch of email messages as scan lines, lines that would open into the
full message if we "clicked" on them.
We saw something like that as the future of deferred communications --
deferred communications. It was our view of the future
that all deferred communications services should be combined in an
inbox", regardless of the media. Also regardless of the service or the
route it took to get to the recipient. Here is the sort of thing we
scan line screen would look like
(BTW, a "viewgraph" is a picture transparency for use in an overhead
projector. Now we think of them as low-tech PowerPoint, but remember
that PowerPoint didn't appear until 1987.)
spaghetti with meat sauce
want you to use today
||I'll be late...
postponed to the afternoon
game you were supposed to be at
||Meeting now for
Our report chose to color-code the media type, though that is
certainly not necessary. The important thing is that, whatever the
media type, the message clicked on would open and present itself as
best it could. For a "terminal" as capable as a modern smartphone,
that's a no-brainer. Unless it's data media for an app that isn't on
the smartphone, it just opens. But the technology of 1980 was far more
instance, suppose the "terminal" is a dumb telephone
handset. Don't laugh. In 1980, this is what most office workers had on
their desk. It can present information only as audio, and accept it
from the user only as audio, or a push of one of twelve buttons, or a
switch on a telephone that senses whether the phone is "hung up"). Here
is how it might handle the scan lines:
- Everything is based on voice menus. (Oh, how I hate voice
menus. But if all you have is a basic phone...)
- The phone reads the current scan line to the user via
- The user responds with the buttons. As long as we
use no more than 12 buttons -- and we are well below that limit -- it
- Present the content behind this scan line. (See next list for what
- Delete the message represented by this scan line.
- Archive the message represented by this scan line.
- Go back one scan line and read that line.
- Go forward one scan line and read that line.
- Go to the oldest scan line and read that line.
- Go to the newest scan line and read that line.
We have buttons left to do optional things, like "page up" and "page
And here is how it would handle
each type of media:
- easy; just play back the message.
- use a text-to-speech converter and play back the message.
Text-to-speech was certainly available at the time. Jim Kutsch, one of
the team members, was blind; but he had rigged his computer terminal
with a text-to-speech converter and was perfectly able to use the
computer for everything -- certainly including email. The speech may
have sounded like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, but it was easily
- play an audible error message; you are not using an
- play an audible error message; you are not using a video-capable
terminal. Then offer an option to play back just the sound track.
- Without the right application and computer, this means nothing. Say
so in audio.
important note! There are opportunities for media conversion here. The
more conversions we can do, the better our offering will serve the
needs of the users with a wide variety of terminals, from dumb
telephone handsets to full desktop workstations. Here are some relevant
conversions, and how technology dealt with them then and now.
to speech - It worked then. It is very good today. Just
think of the voice directions from your GPS navigator.
- Not good at all in 1980; experimental and not ready for prime time.
It is still evolving in 2019; my Android phone has not made a mistake
in two weeks of "Hey, Google". It may not be perfect, but it is good
enough to be very useful.
to image - Easy! In fact, easy in 1980. Turning pixels on
a terminal raster into text is exactly what terminals did even then.
of text to text - Assuming
the image is a picture of text, this is the Optical Character
Recognition (OCR) problem. There were almost manageable solutions in
1980, if you were satisfied with precise and stylized fonts. OCR is
really quite good today with typed or printed images. Might even be
good with handwriting; I haven't tried that lately.
image to anything else - Ummm, no.
We brainstormed a bunch of wild-eyed possibilities, but none seemed
practical. Even if it were possible, the alternative media
"description" of the image was really not useful to the recipient.
to anything else - Same as previous bullet item.
to anything else
- Not even interesting to talk about. You need the app that understands
the data. Once you feed the data to that app, the data has reached its real recipient. The
human user is not the real recipient; he/she is at best the client of
unfortunate (at least I think so) that organizing information around
than media type
still hasn't caught on. Today we are
capable of doing it, but the most popular computing and communications
Technology - dog food
A prime directive for software developers
is, "Eat your own dog food." That means use your own software in your
day-to-day business if possible, while you are developing it. That way,
you will understand what your customers will experience when the
software is done. It is a great way to know what the software does
badly or not at all. That's not the same thing as bugs -- though eating
your own dog food will
bugs that formal testing might not. But, at least as important, you
will get a chance to change the functionality and the user interface to
something better, before
it becomes a product
and therefore hard to change.
weren't doing a development, so we didn't have "dog food to eat". But
Bell Labs had a lot of prototype services that might be offered in the
future. We decided that we would use any of them that might make the
task force more effective or efficient. To understand what this meant,
you need to know that the task force included members from a bunch of
Bell Labs locations: three or four in New Jersey, plus Denver, Chicago,
and Indianapolis. Except for members of my own group, each task force
member had a "real" job in his own department, so time spent traveling
to task force meetings would be a problem. Anything we could do to
substitute hours using advanced telecommunications for days traveling
would help them -- and get of more of their useful time.
got the collaboration of the applied research groups prototyping
advanced services that could help us arrive at meetings of the minds
without necessarily the bodies. These included:
microphones and ceiling speakers that allowed natural-sounding voice
communications between people in multiple conference rooms, without
having to pay attention to the mike while speaking. The mikes were just
there, where they needed to be.
- FAX machines for sharing documents, both during meetings
and preparing for meetings.
"electronic blackboard". This was a wonderful invention that never
became a real product or service. It was a whiteboard with a
touch-screen capability. If you wrote on it with a marker, it not only
took the marker, but transmitted the exact motion of the stroke to
several other such assemblies in other locations. Same for the eraser.
In addition to the
whiteboard, each room was equipped with a large TV monitor. On the
monitor, we could see the combination of everything everybody had
written to each of the boards. They were not separate, but superimposed
as if the boundary of the TV screen was the same as the boundaries of
each whiteboard. This was not done by superimposing a
photographic image, but rather keeping track of all the strokes
detected by the touch-screen whiteboard.
So we could "do invention" with diagrams that each of the
locations was contributing to. The combination of everybody's work was
on the final picture shown on the monitor.
- A slow-scan TV.
Full-motion TV required more bandwidth than we could afford. (The team
responsible for Picturephone Meeting Service discovered that their
potential customers couldn't afford it either, so that development was
dropped.) The slow-scan TV refreshed the image every 5 seconds or so.
Turned out slow-scan TV was not very useful for teleconferencing.
- Email! Everybody on the task force was an experienced
user of email at that point. So we used it to share ideas, schedule
meetings, report progress, etc. I don't remember email being very good
for attachment of documents, so that remained a job for FAX. Remember,
we didn't have desktop computers, just text terminals connected to
networked minicomputers. So "open this
attachment" was not part of the email interface. That is why our user
interface had messages of different media, rather than today's paradigm
where media other than text is an attachment.
This turned out
to be amazingly effective. Most members did not attend most meetings
physically, though they were there in presence. We had as many as 5
rooms in different cities collaborating at any given meeting. And it is
worth noting that I never even met two of the key task force members
face-to-face. (Well, not during the duration of the study,
anyway. I met Warren Montgomery at a golf event almost 20 years later.
But I never met him during our work.)
Technology for the architecture
In the blue "sidebar", I have been talking about the architecture
services of the future. Now let's talk about the technology.
the "future" in 1981 was the 1990s. It wound up taking quite a
few years into the 2000s to get to what we envisioned, but today it is
there now and well beyond it.)
We envisioned a middle-term future (1990s) where a portable computer
was feasible that would have the following characteristics:
This does not sound so different from an oversize
tablet in today's technology. In all honesty, we did not anticipate
today's cellular mobile phones, for several reasons.
- Graphic display at the pixel level. (It could make letters
and numbers from the pixels.)
display would be about the size of a sheet of paper, 8.5" by 11", so it
could display a whole page. That is the portable computer. The monitor
for a desktop computer might be
twice the size, and display two pages simultaneously.
- The display is a touch screen. Implications:
- Ability to push buttons if presented, and even more
complex gestures like swipes and drags.
- A dynamic keyboard can be presented on the screen when
- Microphone and earphone jack, and possibly a speaker. Can
function as a telephone and more.
wireless capability. We envisioned infra-red rather than what we
actually have today: radio WiFi. But the capabilities were pretty
similar. As long as you were within tens of meters of a "hot spot",
you could communicate at very high bit rates.
- Wire interfaces
including that for a telephone cord. At the very least, it could
function as a telephone or, assuming a modem is built-in, a simple text
model, we can carry our "business phone" (a multi-media
terminal/tablet) in our briefcase. Ideally, instead of our
We should be able to "carry" all the papers we would have in the brief
case as electronic documents, either in the terminal or archived in a
place the terminal can access.
can be forgiven for going with a large size rather than today's pocket
size. In the first place, our target was the '90s, and that degree of
miniaturization was beyond early '90s technology. Also, we thought that
screen that size would be neither appealing nor useful. The votes are
in today, and we were wrong. But I'd still rather have a page-size
screen and a keyboard appropriate for touch-typing for most of what I do on a computer; my smartphone
only for when I am
on the go.
I am composing this article on a desktop with full keyboard and big
monitor, and I would never consider doing it on a smartphone.
certainly knew that cellular technology was being worked on. The
cellular mobile architecture was invented at Bell Labs, and I regularly
took coffee break with the head of the Mobile Systems Studies
department. But we didn't believe the hardware would be small nor light
enough for our concept of the 1990s terminal. We were right for 1990,
but by 1999 the equipment had gotten much smaller.
If we were in the office, or in any
commercial building, we have full wideband capability. Just as
commercial space today has WiFi, we assumed that all commercial space
would have our short-range capability.
We did not expect the home to have the same telecom
infrastructure as businesses. Much less likely to have a wireless hot
spot, and even less likely to have wideband digital access to the
telecom network. That reduces the performance,
but not necessarily the
functionality. By plugging the terminal into an ordinary
line, you can have voice communication and, through the built-in modem,
digital communications as well. So non-voice content can still transfer
digitally encoded, just slowly.
Part of our study involved an
exploration of the "name space" -- that is, the way a
telecommunications endpoint is named. For instance, in the telephone
system, we are very familiar with a namespace of telephone numbers.
Every instrument has a unique number by which it can be distinguished.
One of the advances of cellular service was that the number is not only
distinguished, but tracked as it "roams". To maximize the value of the
services, you should be reachable wherever you are, at least
if your instrument was connected to the network. Between roaming
and a database mapping telephone numbers to people -- and even other
namespaces, like email addresses, to people -- it would be possible to
locate all the telecommunications devices belonging to you, and alert
you on all of them.
Summing up what we envisioned for the future, you can be reached for
any kind of
communications at your workplace, any workplace in general, and
(perhaps with some loss of performance) at home. In fact, we could
reasonably expect any substantial public or business site to be set up
so you could be reached: an office building where you were a visitor, a
mall, a restaurant, a sports stadium, a gym, etc. We did
route (mobile) access for the reasons presented. But except while on
the road, you could reach or be reached for any purpose and by any
This is good. Right?
The "aha" moment
I think it was Bob Rosin who uttered the phrase that described this
ubiquitous situation most dramatically. "I am my phone!" If
my business telecom terminal is always with me,
then I am always accessible for business purposes.
may sound dismayingly normal today. Let me assure you it was not normal
in 1980. It was scary. In 1980 I could compartmentalize my
time and my personal time. Since most people had to be addressed
differently in your different roles (e.g., home phone number vs office
phone number), your boss,
co-workers, and customers couldn't reach you at all times, and they
didn't expect to. A telecom architecture and technology like we
envisioned would end all that. We foresaw that the ability to reach
you at any time would produce an expectation
that it was OK to reach you at any time.
That very day, the day I heard and
understood "I am my phone," I
promised myself that I would resist letting it happen to me. That, not
technophobia, was the reason I resisted getting a smartphone and
"becoming my phone". It has been a matter of principle for me,
A slippery slope
Bob Rosin's observation certainly appears to be true today. We are our phones!
I set out to resist, and held out longer than most people I know. But
adopting technology is a decidedly slippery slope. The aspects of
ability ("Look what I can do with the new tech!") and convenience
("...And look how easily I can do it!") tends to wear away at one's
Here is my still continuing slide down the slippery slope. I have not
reached the bottom. I am not my phone -- yet. I have reached the
point where I have a smartphone and the services needed to become my
phone. I haven't used the sort of stuff that is all so addictive; I
just use the stuff I feel can enhance my effective use of technology.
How long can I hold out? I talk about this below, after I recount how I
got where I am today.
Cell phone service
In the 1990s, of course, cell phones became
sufficiently small that they could be carried around in a pocket. The
phones weren't cheap, but their price was hardly prohibitive. They
weren't yet smartphones; they were just telephones. But it was clear
that, if a cell phone became commonplace enough, then there
was no need to resolve the namespace issue with multiple phone numbers.
You carried one phone number around, and you were "always on". The
future wasn't quite the same technically as the one we foresaw, but the
problem was the same or even greater. Now you "were your phone" even en
route. Walking. Riding. Plus all the places we had envisioned.
Of course, I didn't get a cell phone. I didn't need one for what I
wanted to do, and I didn't want one because of what my job might want
me to do. I got a small glimpse of this in 1999, a few years before I
retired. My immediate supervisor had a cell phone, and he abused the
fact. Even though few of us in his group had one, he found a way to
bully us with his. For instance, I liked to get to the office early
because it gave me an hour or so of peace and quiet to do stuff before
the environment spun out of my control. My boss John knew that
but he was a micromanager by nature. So he decided to get some extra
"quality time" with
me while he was driving to work. He would call me during my quiet,
productive time and occupy a good half-hour of it getting a daily
report. When he went on a three-week vacation in Japan, he got an
international calling plan for his cell phone, and did it to me, and
everyone else in his group, from
halfway around the world. (Yes, it impacted his vacation as
well -- but that counts as fun for a micromanaging workaholic.)
I got to late 2007 without
a cell phone. That was
less than a year after Apple announced the iPhone. IMHO, that was the
first real smartphone, RIM's Blackberry notwithstanding. (The
Blackberry was missing a bunch of things we expect of a smartphone,
though it did combine the phone with a number of non-phone features,
like email and calendar.) Then my wife had surgery, scheduled but
serious. While she was recovering, I could not leave her alone
for more than 1-2 hours. I could do local errands, like
But I could not play golf (which was important to me), go out to lunch
with friends, nor other out-of-house recreation. So, in October of
2007, I broke down and got a cell phone to lengthen my leash.
No, it wasn't a smart phone. My criteria were long battery life and
telephone reception and transmission; smart was never a consideration.
A little shopping told me my
requirements were well met by an LG flip phone, which was available
free as part of a low cost senior calling plan from Verizon. Perfect
for me! Good telephone call quality (both the phone and the network),
enough phone time for the essentials (30 minutes per month didn't leave
time to make a life on the phone -- and I didn't want one), and no data
and high charges for texting (I wanted to avoid both data and texting).
This was fine for the purpose I wanted: allowing Honey to contact me in
case of emergency. I found it had other advantages:
- I could call Honey from the store with questions
about shopping, and she could call me if she forgot to put something on
the list. Sounds like a little thing, but almost all our monthly
minutes were used that way.
had put off getting a digital "triple play" package
for our home; triple play is cable TV, phone service, and internet
one bundle from the cable company. I resisted because the triple-play
equipment was powered from house electric power. A power outage would
leave me unable to call
the power company to report the outage, thereby extending my time
without power. With an old-technology land line, I could use an
old-technology phone to make a call because, unlike the cordless phones
I normally used, the old phones were powered through the land line
itself. I kept an old Princess phone in the drawer of the end table
where my wireless base station was, so I could make calls when the
power went out -- even if only to the power company. Yes, really!
I'm an engineer in the telecom industry; I really did think through
strategies like this.
Anyway, now that I had a cell phone, I had
another way to contact the power company if the house went dark. So I
immediately ordered a triple-play service. The cost savings almost paid
for the cheap cell plan, and my TV and internet service both improved.
Android pocket computer
My little flip phone did it for me very nicely for years. In 2014,
however, I had a decision to make. I found myself in need of a
smartphone for two reasons having nothing to do with cell phone
My decision was -- wait for it -- I would get a smartphone but
not put phone service on it!
In essence, I was buying a pocket-size Android computer, not a phone. I
fairly capable phone (LG again, by sheer coincidence) at Best Buy for
$40. Why so cheap? Because it was locked into a Sprint cell service.
Not contractually, but technically. I didn't have to buy Sprint cell
service, but I couldn't put any other service on this phone. And at
this price, it wasn't worth
trying to "jailbreak" it.
- I had gotten involved in a golf technology project
that needed a smartphone or tablet for the user interface. It was a
golf swing analyzer consisting of a set of 6DOF accelerometers and
that attach to the golf club. These sensors communicate their readings
phone via Bluetooth, and the phone is able to calculate the details of
exactly where the club is during the swing. (Our project did not
succeed, but the technology itself did; here
is one of several examples on
the market today.)
United States Golf Association has legalized the use of rangefinders in
golf, to measure how far
you are from the hole. In addition to [expensive] dedicated golf
rangefinders, there were cheap and even free cell phone apps that used
the GPS in the phone
to do the job.
Here it is in the shockproof case
and scratchproof screen shield I got for it. Remember, its purposes
were to be on the golf course with me, so the battle armor was
Turns out it did the job for me. I also found other
things it could do, like take halfway-decent pictures on the
course, and tell me how far I went on my Saturday morning walks. But
best of all, it allowed me to remain true to my principles. I was not my phone!
I had no cell service on the phone that could have done texting and
data. Phone calling was still on my flip phone. You know, the one with
minutes a month of talk and no data.
The full monty
It's now 2019. I've had my semi-smart phone (without phone service) for
Several things are happening that require some sort of
Those problems could be solved by a smartphone with properly
GPS and a mobile data service. (The data service would be needed for
real-time download of maps from Google: essential for navigation and a
nice added touch for golf rangefinding.) So I was shopping for (a) a
new smartphone and (b) a real
cell service, complete with mobile data.
- My semi-smart phone's GPS went dead. You don't pay
for repair for a five-year-old phone that sold new for $40. So my most
important reason for having that device, the golf rangefinder, no
- TomTom stopped supporting my old (2009? 2010?) GPS
navigation system. They did it suddenly and without notice. I could no
longer connect the device to their web program, not even to do stuff
that required no new capability. They just shut off the web site from
talking to that model any more. So my GPS navigator no longer did
everything I wanted.
- I was pushing the 30 minutes a month talking allowed
by my cheap senior plan. Honey was having health problems again, and
had a full-time caregiver. I was in cell phone contact with Andrea the
more than I ever was with Honey. (Andrea is her phone -- with
I found the cell service first.
There is a Metro store ten minutes from the house. It is Black Friday.
What a happy coincidence! With Black Friday coming up, I had
already done some online shopping for smartphones. At the top of my
list was the Motorola G7 Power. When I got to the Metro store, I was
only customer there (on
Black Friday?), and I had store manager Joe's full
attention. Between its being Black Friday and my switching service from
Verizon, I had a very attractive choice of free
choose from. At the top of the list were the Moto G7 Power (my first
choice from the little shopping I had already done) and the Samsung
Galaxy A20 (which had been enough more expensive that I didn't bother
look closely). I was able to lock in the deal if I came back tomorrow
chose the phone then, so I researched it overnight. It was a hard
both were very good and both had things I didn't like.
- I wrote off Verizon offhand; their service cost more
than I was willing to pay.
- I started by looking at Altice's new phone service.
It was very inexpensive when bundled with their triple play. (Verizon's
FiOS triple play had also been going up in price; it was now more than
what it was when we became their customer, and I was shopping for
too.) So I started reading reviews. Altice is not ready for prime time,
neither their internet service nor their new cell service. I was
astounded at the number of negative reviews. Back to the search.
little online research shows the most affordable
plan to be MetroPCS (now called "Metro by T-Mobile"; I'll just call it
"Metro" here). A plan with unlimited calling and texting, and 10GB per
data, was only twice what my senior plan cost. But are they any good?
The reviews were quite good. Maybe not as good as Verizon, but the
difference in coverage was in areas where I no
longer travel. (Coverage had been a big deciding point in
2007, when I first got cellular service. I traveled a lot more then.)
The cherry on the sundae: Andrea has Metro service, and has no
complaints at all. Realize that
Andrea lives on her
phone. Being with us full-time, and being from Jamaica,
her friends and family are only available via her smartphone. So she is
on her phone any time she is not caring for Honey, and sometimes even
then. And Metro works fine for her. Let's
decided on the Samsung, and I am enjoying it so far. It solves the
problems I listed above, and is fast and capable. It still has a
too-small display, at least for my taste; in fairness, it is a rather
big display for a phone. And I'm still getting used to a tiny
touch-screen keyboard. But it is doing the job nicely. Even the speech
recognition is very good if I want to look something up.
Having bitten the bullet and gotten the hardware, the telecom services,
and much of the software, will I be able to avoid becoming my
trying. We'll see if I can do it. So far, I'm succeeding. It is, for
the most part, a very capable phone, a decent camera (not as good as my
Nikon, but convenient to have with me anytime I am out), a better golf
rangefinder than the last one, and a really good automotive navigator,
and... That's it!
Yes, I have Chrome on it. Yes, I have Facebook on it. But I am not
close to being a zombie with head buried in the small screen. Today I
took the car in for service, which took an hour and a half including
waiting. I brought the phone and a book. I spent most of the time
reading the book. Facebook is almost painful with a tiny screen
and a not-very-capable keyboard. I haven't put email on the A20, and
no hurry to do so.
A real computer, with full-size tactile-feedback keyboard and 22"
monitor, is so much more satisfying. I'm a long way from being seduced
into using the phone for what I normally do on a computer. Maybe I can
becoming my phone, even with the phone that has sucked in so many.
the scan line display in the image is not what you would
see today. We've learned a lot in forty years by living with systems
like this. Today, all the messages would be text; media of any
kind would be attachments; it works much better that way. In 1980,
email was pretty much a text service. The email protocols did support
attachments, but our experience did not include attachments in other
media. So we envisioned it that way without living with it.
popular technology still seems to organize content not by subject
matter nor time line, but by media type or origin. Here are two of the
more popular digital platforms around, and the way those platforms
starting at least as far back as Windows 95, has made an assumption
(almost a decree) about the "right" way to organize information. In so
doing they have all but decreed that you must do so if you use Windows.
The system is installed with four top-level folders in each user's file
space, those folders having special status: Documents, Music, Pictures,
and Videos. All user-generated or user-saved information "belongs" in
one of those four folders. That is pure separation by media at the top
level of the information hierarchy. When I first encountered Windows 95
(in 1993, several years earlier than the general public), my reaction
was, "That's ridiculous!" I had ample reason to believe it is exactly
way to do it. (a) I was a UNIX user for several decades at that point,
so I knew about better ways. (b) My experience with the task force told
me that media type is something we should be able to gloss over, almost
hide, in favor of the subject matter. For instance, I have a lot of
information on my computer about golf. Here are what I want and what I
don't want in organizing my files. (a) I was a UNIX user for several
decades at that point, so I knew about better ways. (b) My experience
with the task force told me that media type is something we should be
able to gloss over, almost hide, in favor of the subject matter. For
instance, I have a lot of information on my computer about golf. Here
are what I want and what I don't want in organizing my files.
Windows encourages the second, "don't want" organization, almost to the
point it compels it. I use my "want" organization in all my Windows
computers, but I had to customize the backup procedure considerably.
Microsoft expects all the data you create and store to be in their four
(documents, pictures, and videos
organized by logic, not by media)
(documents, pictures, and videos
organized by logic, not by media)
(documents, pictures, and videos
organized by logic, not by media)
(Other, non-golf stuff)
I don't want
(Other, non-golf stuff)
(Other, non-golf stuff)
(Other, non-golf stuff)
look at a concrete example. I am part of a company that makes a golf
training aid called the "Pro-Head Trainer". In my "Golf" section, I
have the source files for the instruction manual for the Pro-Head
Trainer. We have two versions
of the manual, a conventional text-with-pictures booklet and an
instruction video. In order to see all the files -- documents,
pictures, and videos -- I can go to one folder at the end of the tree:
Golf/ TrainingAids/ Pro-Head/ Model-2/ Manual/
five levels of branching, and every one is logically necessary. Once I
get there, I can browse and use any of the files for the manual, in any
of the media. If I
had accepted the Windows paradigm for saving information, I'd have that
entire five-level subtree replicated under Documents, Pictures, and
Videos. I'd have to move from one tree to another to see all the files
phones' folder structure is a lot more hidden from the
user than Windows. It is all but impossible to do what I do with
Windows, and change that structure from what you are given. The folder
structure is not organized by subject matter, as I want on my computer.
The top level of the hierarchy isn't even about media explicitly; it is
about what kind of process or service put the information there. You
have top level folders for
texts (not text documents, as Windows would do it, but things stored by
the texting service), for downloads, for camera pictures and videos,
only way to get at the information is with apps that know where it is;
you can't browse the folders at all; you invoke an app that will
display PDFs, or display videos, or... You get the idea. Turns out you can browse files,
but you have to
download a third party app, a "File Manager", whose information realm
is files and folders. And, unlike other operating systems, trying to
open a file will not play the video or display the photo. Yeccchhh!
- Texting is a
strange service. Technically, it is almost indistinguishable from
email. Both are deferred 1:N services with the medium being
text. The only real technical difference is the namespace: you address
email with an internet location and texts with a phone number. The real
distinction turns out not to be technical, but rather how the services
are used. In particular, it usually boils down to the
expectations of the user:
is a contemplative service. A "conversation" in email does not promote
an impatient reaction in the sender waiting for a response. The
recipient is free to think about it, take some care composing the
answer, and send the answer in due time.
on the other hand, while implemented as deferred
used by most cell phone owners as immediate
communications -- a text "chat" service. I
suspect it may have acquired that expectation in an antisocial way. It
is a way that people can have a clandestine "phone call". That is, they
can converse silently and therefore secretly, at a meeting or during
a conversation, without audibly dissing the people in their physical
presence. That is hardly the only way it is used, but it is definitely
used that way. And, unlike email, it is hardly ever used in a
contemplative fashion. No well-thought-out responses here. The tiny
screen and uncomfortable keyboard do not lend themselves to long,
coherent messages -- neither creating them nor reading them.
Apr 13, 2020