I once told a colleague that EMI could release a straight dump of the Beatles’ master tapes — every inch of chatter, false starts, tuning, George getting pissy at Paul — and I would buy it. EMI hasn’t given me that opportunity, so I make do with what’s available. Which is why this book is having me salivating.
Bill Gates is, yet again, claiming that speech-driven user interfaces are about to become the Next Big Thing in computing.
Sure, he’s been saying that for a long time now. Ten years at least. I think Bill is taking the broken clock approach on this: say something often enough, long enough, and the laws of probability declare that you will eventually be right. You may laugh at me for predicting snow tomorrow … but give it six months. Then who’s the wise guy, huh?
Enough already. The gulf between Gates’ financial/business success and the acuity of his technological vision is stunning; there is probably no comparable figure in any industry who has been so wrong in the field of his supposed expertise. His obsession with voice-driven UIs – which probably stems from nothing more than too many Star Trek reruns back in the dorm at Harvard — is just one example of his propensity for mistaking his own geeky fetishes for technological inevitabilities.
No one wants voice computing, except for David Pogue, and he’s a Mac user. The din of an entire office running speech-driven computers boggles the mind. Not to mention that voice interaction is much slower than customary manual interaction. This technology has been around for years now, and if people wanted it, it would have taken off already. You know two-way video phones have existed since the early eighties? Probably you did. No one wants those either.
At this point I am tempted to draw a parallel between Gates’ obsession with vocal interfaces and the unhinged swearing that many a Windows user has directed against his or her recalcitrant machine. But I’m taking the high road.
In the meantime, will some tech journalist kindly grow a pair (pardon the metaphor, female readers) and ask Gates to either let the subject die or offer a plainspoken explanation as to why this decade-old prediction stubbornly refuses to come true?
Let’s say I’m at the mall, browsing through some tchotchke store. The Oriental Trading Company, perhaps, or Pottery Barn. No, actually I hate those places and never go into them. I don’t hate Crate and Barrel, so let’s say I’m in Crate and Barrel, browsing the kitchen shit. (Everyone buys their kitchen shit at Crate.) I pick up a hefty hand-sized object: a vase, a lemonade pitcher, a three-pack of trendy barbecue sauces. (Mango Chipotle?) Invariably, on weighing any handheld object, my mind immediately poses the question:
I wonder if you could kill a guy with this?
Perhaps it’s a guy thing. I just have a peculiar fascination with the inherent deadliness of non-lethal objects. I may be rare, but I know I’m not alone. George Carlin once mused that you could kill someone with the Sunday New York Times, if you were sufficiently motivated. I’m actually not convinced; Jason Bourne may be able to do remarkable things with a rolled-up magazine, but the Sunday Times is too hard to roll up and would be too soft and yielding to deliver a killing blow. Now, a frozen newspaper is a different story. Anyone who’s had a paper delivered to their home in winter knows that a newspaper frozen to your front step is like a slab of rock. Hell, I’d wager you could kill someone with a daily Times if the weather were cold and icy enough. Of course, many objects become deadlier once frozen, particularly food items, so perhaps the point is redundant.
Another way to amplify the deadliness of ordinary things is to put a bunch of them together. A potato, for instance, isn’t much of a threat by itself. Put a dozen or more in a sack, and you could do some serious harm before they all turned to mush. A sack of frozen potatoes would pretty much make you a one-man killing machine.
Some household objects that used to be deadly are now no longer so. Telephones used to be made of bakelite and contained metal bells and wiring and rotary mechanisms; a few swift applications of one of those suckers and you’d have someone on the ground in no time. Now phones are all circuit boards and light plastic, no guts to them at all; it’d be like trying to hit someone with a plastic mug.
Anyway, here is a partial list of single, common, non-frozen benign objects small enough to be easily wielded by hand and which can be turned into lethal weapons with a little determination.
- A Chia Pet.
- A laptop computer. (Think of it: you can beat someone to death with technology that, a generation ago, would have taken up an entire room!)
- A bridal magazine. (Jason Bourne could fight his way out of a Turkish prison with one of these.)
- A tub of Oxi-Clean.
- One of those “executive” bookshelf stereos. (Anyone owning one of these, of course, might well deserve to be killed anyway.)
- A flute. (A clarinet, being made of wood, would probably crack under repeated blows.)
- A pepper mill.
- A Lladro figurine. (“Happy anniversary, sweetie.” Thwack.)
- A child’s car seat. (Pretty intense irony, huh? You know it.)
- A toilet plunger.
- A piggy bank. (You’d probably need to kill with the first shot, but at least you’d get some money out of the affair.)
- A jar candle.
- A wet-floor sign. (The irony! It’s too much!)
So next time you’re out shopping, and find yourself hefting a particularly large cantaloupe or a nice anniversary clock for someone’s mantel, ask yourself: what would it take? How would I have to grip this thing? Are there any edges or points I could use to my advantage? How many blows could I get in before the job was done or the object itself fell apart?
Makes the time in Pottery Barn or Pier 1 Imports a lot more fun.
G.L. Hoffman offers some marketing advice in the wake of the news that Microsoft has hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the agency that revamped Burger King among many other brands.
Certainly those guys have their work cut out for them. Microsoft is much more a part of people’s daily lives than perhaps any other brand that agency has worked on — we may occasionally get a Whopper or pop some of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, but a lot of people spend a significant portion of their day staring into one or more Microsoft products. There are relatively few people whose minds aren’t already made up about Microsoft, who don’t have at least one horror story about how Windows or Office briefly made their lives miserable. If that weren’t bad enough, Apple is mocking Microsoft’s signature product in what is probably the most recognizable ad campaign running today. How do you turn a brand around in the face of all that?
Hoffman’s suggestions in brief:
- Get Bill Gates involved in the ads.
- I’m not actually sure what his second suggestion is; you’d best read it yourself. I think it’s something about innovating from the bottom up, then publicizing it.
- Respond to Apple.
- Ditch the Microsoft logo.
- Bring Gates back to save the company by making “smart” the new “cool.”
Suggestion 1 is obviously wrong. The only way to make Gates appealing would be to poke fun at his dorkishness, and he’s too uptight for that. Gates isn’t a lovable dweeb like John Hodgman’s PC character; he’s stiff and unfunny and rather painful to listen to. Likewise, suggestion 5 draws an incorrect analogy to Jobs’ role at Apple. Jobs returned to a company that lost its way without him; Microsoft is still operating in Gates’ mold: its culture is built around competition, not innovation, and its software products are designed to appeal to developers and IT managers more than end users. And there may be some people who vaguely believe Gates invented personal computing, but it can’t have escaped the public’s attention that the latest technical innovations to catch on with the public — the iPod, MySpace, YouTube, Digg, even that Kindle thing — came from companies other than Microsoft.
So I see Obama has a majority of pledged delegates. And at the same time, Hillary wins another one, this time in Kentucky.
I am desperate for this crap to be over. I was about to donate to the Obama campaign again — but I realize what I’d really prefer to do is anti-donate to the Hillary campaign. Actually sap money out of her coffers. We can encourage people to run by lending support; why not be able to discourage running by actually sapping support? Now THAT would be democracy.
OK, I realize it’s actually a stupid idea. But really, I am desperate for this crap to be over.