Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 12: November 2005

The Good Stuff

It’s not that there hasn’t been lots of good stuff, but I describe most of it within perspectives, quick notes in mini-perspectives, and topical sections. That means the remnant items—things I want to mention that don’t fit elsewhere—sit around longer. Such is life.

“The ten biggest problems in computing and how we’ll solve them,” PC Magazine 24:14 (August 23, 2005): 82-100, and accompanying articles “The net’s next 10 years” (Sebastian Rupley), pp. 102-3, and “Beyond the PC, pp. 106-12.

This trio of articles makes up a big Hot Future piece, some of it fascinating, some a little improbable (perhaps), some needing to be viewed carefully. “It’s impossible to find stuff” overstates the case for many reasonably organized PC users. We’re assured that in a few years “recording and archiving everything we experience in our lives will be possible”—but why on earth would we want such universal recall?

Then there are better batteries: Once more, “super-efficient fuel cells” are just around the corner. Cade Metz says “surfing the web is too slow” in an article that felt like a child screaming for more toys now—“If you’re streaming audio and video to your PC, downloading movies on demand, playing online games, or even sharing photos, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself praying for additional bandwidth.” [Emphasis added.] I might pray for world peace, good health, or a number of other things—but additional bandwidth? Have no fear, “Additional backbone bandwidth is sure to arrive in the next few years” (because we’re all going to watch streaming on-demand movies, right?) and 80Mbps download speed will be available for “between $40 and $50 a month for voice and data, and a bit more for video.”

Oh, your PC isn’t fast enough either. “The leading 3D games don’t always run as smoothly as they should. Full-motion video can be choppy.” Wah, wah, wah: How can you live with such slow toys? (Cade Metz wrote both pieces, and I’ve seen enough of his style to suspect the subtle petulant-child approach is deliberate.) Faster processors are “just around the corner” (which is almost always true). That section ends, “Moore’s law will one day reach its limit, but it’s likely to ride out this decade. Maybe by then computers will be fast enough for us all.” Wanna bet? People who complain about PC speed in 2005 will be complaining about PC speed in 2015, no matter how fast it is, because other people will develop resource-hog applications that push the PC’s limits.

“Technologies are unrolling that hopefully will cover America with a wireless cloud extending from coast to coast by 2012, offering perfect voice calls and high-speed Internet.” Save this issue: That’s only seven years away. I don’t get perfect voice calls on our landline phone, or any service at all inside our house on cell. I’m guessing conditions are a bit worse, particularly for wireless, in portions of the Mojave Desert and rural America. But I’m not Sky Dayton of EarthLink, who promises, “The internet will subsume all networks and be as ubiquitous as oxygen.”

The last section is a group of “future tech” essays about space, the military, health care, and the “responsive home.” That last one gives me the creeps, just as it always has—you know, the “smart home” that knows when you’ve been sleeping, knows when you’re awake, “adjust[s] the lighting, temperature, and other environmental factors to match moods and biorhythms” because all the inhabitants wear sensing devices to report where they are and their vital signs. PARC, formerly Xerox PARC, sees “the God phone,” a “shared audio space” so you’re always in “constant communication with people in other homes,” no matter where you are. This is presumably a good thing. After all, if you’re not chatting you might think, even contemplate, and we wouldn’t want that.

Gottesman, Ben Z., “Make your photos great!” PC Magazine 24:6 (April 12, 2005): 95-106.

This section discusses techniques for improving digital photos in a range of different situations, as explained by a professional photographer and a graphics-software expert. Each of six essays shows a “before” and “after” situation and describes the tool used and how it was used. It’s well worth reading as an unusually detailed and revealing set of case studies—even if you may have qualms (as I do) about getting (for example) the “perfect shot” of a natural scene by doctoring the picture you actually took. Two of the six cases bother me because they show magnificent “natural” pictures that never really happened, or at least weren’t captured this way by this photographer—but if you think of them as photopainting, I guess there’s no problem.

Karp, David A., “Who you gonna call?” PC Magazine 24:16 (September 20, 2005): 95-101.

This could go in “PC Progress” as a roundup, but it’s a little more interesting than that. PC Magazine established three problems on a PC—one software, one hardware, one “malware”—then tried five different commercial computer support services to see who could deal with them effectively.

The results are fascinating. 888 Geek Help, which charges $1.75 a minute, never did ask for a credit card—but also provided no useful help at all. “So the call cost nothing, and we got exactly what we paid for.” At least it only took 11 minutes. Geeks By Minute ($1.99 per minute, first minute free) made registration fast and easy—but it took them more than two hours to fix the three problems, at a cost of $284.57. While the service did go “farther to protect our PC than any other service,” the cost and time rule out a recommendation. Geek Squad charges $79 per incident (and is the best known such service), but in 94 minutes managed to solve only one of three problems. at $40 for 30 minutes, $70 for an hour was fast, efficient, using a remote-control session to diagnose problems, and effective. In 26 minutes total (including five minutes on hold), all three problems were fixed for $40 (OK, $39.99) total. This service gets the Editors’ Choice.

Miller, Ron, “Ebooks worm their way into the reference market,” EContent 28:7/8 (July/August 2005): 30-34.

“Back in 2000 when it looked as though the entire world’s content would soon be digitized, a myth developed that in the not-too-distant future, paper books would be supplanted by electronic books (ebooks).” That’s the lead, and Miller goes on to say that this “vision (thankfully) has not come to fruition,” before discussing real uses of “ebooks”—online reference tools, text collections like Safari, and more.

It’s a good overview, although I’d place the date eight years earlier than Miller does. By 2000, most library people (I believe) had given up on the myth of dying paper books—except for those who now hope that Google Print and other initiatives will somehow make physical libraries and collections irrelevant.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 12, Whole Issue 68, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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