I'm a 28-year-old gadget nerd. Like many of my generation, I don't often read instruction manuals. In dealings with parents, relatives and older friends, I've often struggled to wrap my head around what it is about technology that so fundamentally baffles members of generations past. Is it a fear of experimentation with the unknown? How can something that feels imprinted on my DNA be so utterly foreign to someone else? It's a feeling shared by any son or daughter visiting home who, after a quick hug from mom and dad, is led unsubtly by the arm over to the computer desk: "Fix this. Please."
But recently I've had some illuminating moments of empathy. And they've all come behind the wheel.
For a nation that prides itself on "firsts," America's 2011 is shaping up pretty poorly. Two American firsts will experience their lasts this year: the space shuttles, the first and only reusable space vehicles of their kind, will retire this week, and Fermilab's Tevatron--once the world's most powerful particle collider--will cease smashing in September. While all good things must come to an end, neither of these world-beating technologies has a homegrown successor to pick up where its predecessor left off. With regularity, the "firsts" are happening elsewhere these days.
For those of us who grew up on Big Science--where big projects regularly hit big milestones that were a big deal--these are strange days. I want to see Americans build the first fusion reactor. Actually, I want to see American robots build it, and I want them do it on the moon.
In a few short months, Microsoft's Kinect has become one of the most exciting platforms around. Dozens of hackers are making use of the groundbreaking motion sensor, crafting projects ranging from quirky instruments to medical equipment replacements to art installations. Those thrilling projects all have one thing in common: Microsoft has nothing to do with them, and regular consumers have no access to them. You can't buy them in stores. And what you can buy in stores is disappointing at best.
For almost all of the ten-million-plus Kinect owners, including myself, the Kinect sits on the TV stand, collecting dust in between increasingly infrequent games of Dance Central--a launch title. Why is Microsoft letting their most exciting product in years--maybe ever--sit fallow?
There goes 2009, and what a year she was. Let's see, the iTunes App Store eclipsed one billion downloads, Google surprised us all with the announcement of Chrome OS, Windows 7 sent Vista to the big Blue Screen of Death in the sky, Verizon and AT&T started fighting dirty and the e-reader market exploded. But instead of looking back at the year that was, we of course always find it a lot more fun to look forward. So, here's what's on my wish list for the year to come in gadgets and tech.
Besides world peace and a visit from the Publishers Clearing House van, the one thing I want in life is an always-on Internet connection—and, I want it affordably. More specifically, I want always accessible, reasonably priced, quick and dependable wireless Internet. After all, my broadband connection through the cable company is technically always on, but it's worthless once I walk out of the house. It stands to reason, then, that only a mobile provider will ever be capable of fulfilling this wish.
It dawned on me while on vacation recently that I actually already have what I've always wanted. The problem is that it's a last-generation definition of what Internet access is and needs to be.
Is Microsoft finally admitting that Windows Vista is a lost cause? Well, that’s certainly not the official company line, but it does kind of seem that way to me. The embattled OS’s successor, Windows 7, wraps up a public beta in a few days and speculation is that Microsoft is planning to crown its heir to the Windows kingdom as early as the Fall. By then, Vista will have been on store shelves for less than three years. That’s not a very long time compared to XP, which was top dog for five years before being replaced by Vista—if it was ever really replaced at all.
Been laid off? Sacked? Canned? Made redundant? Welcome to the new economy! Now that you've parted ways with regular pay, it's time to make a few lifestyle tweaks to help keep your head bobbing above the poverty line. First of all, don't worry a thing about your monthly health insurance payment—that nut will disappear all by itself when your coverage runs out. I'm talking about your tech habits and what you need to know while riding out this exile from the working world. As a gadget buff who has clocked some serious time "in between jobs" myself, I offer up this checklist of the bad tech to avoid and the good tech to embrace as you ease into your new situation.
Whether you want to call it "2.0" or not, the fact is that a better, stronger, faster Web experience is quickly replacing the old one, and there's a lot out there to be psyched about. But, for every Google Maps, Facebook and Flickr that does (most) everything right, there are a thousand more Web sites out there still clinging to archaic, annoying and even deceptive practices. What the operators of these sites fail to understand is that forcing me to endure these "experiences" is worse than not having a Web site at all.
Were you suckered into buying an extended warranty on a tech purchase this past holiday season? Take a closer read of the fine print, because you're not as covered as you might think. Scratches? Not a chance. A power surge? If you're lucky. Nuclear holocaust? Nope. But, more on that later.