A Dog's life with an Attitude. DOGLEG
EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
In the on-line traveling booking department, I have come up 50-50 in the last two trips. The last foray to Montana was supposed to be booked via nwa.com. But in order to book passage, I needed a frequent flyer number. To sign up for a frequent flyer number, the site lead me to another log-in page, which then refused to process any data. So I had to call an agent, who booked the flight over the telephone. It was not after actually receiving the e-tickets that I got hosed on the cost of the tickets. Live and learn on booking electronically at the last minute.
But on the Montana trip there was one interesting and a few annoying things about techno travel. The first annoyance is that people on cellphones are barking their thoughts throughout the terminal. Does everyone get a bad cell these days? It also leads to entertainment value as their private conversations, at least one side of them, is plainly heard in public. I don't think people realize their vocal level on their cell connections; the worse the connection, the louder and more frantic their decibel levels.
The second annoyance is that the Minneapolis airport is more user friendly, and tech friendly than my home port, O'Hare. There is a flight status monitor within eyesight on every concourse. There are more and varied shops and food stands throughout the MSP terminals than all of O'Hare combined. Minne has a full TGIFridays for gosh sakes. Minneapolis also has business centers throughout the concourses. These alcoves have an ATM machine, a postal machine, and telephone desks where someone can sit down and go some overdue paperwork between flights. And everyone has time between flights nowadays.
When I arrived at Gate C2 on the day before the long holiday weekend, the milling passengers around the jet way were light. I had ninety minutes before departure on the final leg of the itinerary, so I wandered around the concourses. I checked the flight status board, saw that the terminal contained numerous eating establishments, including a Starbucks bookstore. Beyond the normal telephone bank was a gray plastic triad open booth. On one side was a large moving display screen advertising Internet access. So it was one of those moving mall billboards. But it was slightly different. I went around the one side and saw this:
It was a full Internet workstation. It was called The Gate Station. From top to bottom, it was loaded with features: a web camera, a large screen with jumping off points for airport information, flight information, retail links to Amazon, eBay, Dell, callingcards.com, three lower slots for a printer output, cash or credit card, then below that a floppy and a ZIP drive reader. Off to the right side of the booth was a CAT5e and a power outlet. Below the main console was an attached gray plastic keyboard/desk. There was an inset keyboard and a trackball mouse with two separate round buttons. There was a drink holder to the left. The screen was in default mode proclaiming $5.00 for 15 minutes!
After wandering the concourse, I return to this gate area and observe a business woman in casual clothes sit down at the booth. She had the look of a sales person on a travel day. She sat down on the booth and you could tell she was checking her emails.
A few minutes later, a man wandered by the booth. He sat down and it appeared he went through the start up screen features and help menus just to see what this machine could do. He did not stay around long enough to put any money in the cash slot.
Getting bored, and wanting to try to send the first cool tech volley to Rocky, the technoguru of our inner circle, I decided to spend less than a fast food lunch to test drive the Gate Station.
The keyboard had recessed keys. Later, I realized that was because the keyboard itself had dislodged and fallen slightly below the level of the desktop. So the tiny little roundish keys were actually recessed like little pot bunkers. I put $5 in the cash slot, and immediately a fifteen minute green countdown clock appeared in the corner of the screen. It took a few minutes to digest the windoze commands. The first menu wanted to direct your attention toward its selling features: corporate email, personal email, browse the web. Corporate email apparently was receive only and I backed off that to personal email icon and got into my AOL home account. I logged on and sent my office an email note. Then I clicked on the browse the web button and the web was at hand. I tried to get to Rocky's website but the period button would not work. So I typed in descendingspiral in the search engine. The first listing was a missing page, but I hit the home page URL and clicked on it to get to his running blog.
The screen resolution is not as good as my office monitors or home computers. The crispness of single pixel graphic lines appeared muddy by contrast of what I am used to on my sites. I roamed around Rocky's site, and sent him a comment from the airport in lieu of an email. I wanted to show him, in a time-stamped form, that I had stumbled upon and used some new technology that he, as Mr. Gadget Hound, would be envious of.
I pulled up my own personal websites to see how they appear in an out-of-state venue, and to scare the passengers on the moving sidewalk behind me.
Like an old arcade game, the time seemed to run by pretty fast. I logged off just as the seconds were ticking down to zero.
My personal assessment of this Internet booth:
PROS: It is one of those designs that you would bang your head against the wall saying I should have invented this! It has all the features and connections any traveler would need to surf the net, print a document, or plug in your laptop or ZIP drive without killing your battery. The layout is well thought out; and includes a drink holder!
CONS: A bad keyboard. (Afterward, I checked the other screen booth and its keyboard was sturdy and in place with the keys raised above the desktop.) The screen resolution was not high quality. I did not see any web camera feature to create a web pic of myself to email.
NEUTRAL: Price point. At thirty-three cents a minute, who can really argue that it is much more than a long distance phone call? For the business traveler with his or her own laptop, the phone companies have pay phones now with modem jacks to connect to their intranets on their credit calling cards so the need may not be overwhelming for this brand of technology. However, it was an interesting diversion from the boredom of sitting in a neutral toned airjet gate waiting for the boarding announcement.
APPLICATION: This was the only booth I saw in the Minneapolis terminal. Haggarded airport travelers seems to be a micro-market for this type of design. The real opportunity could be in Internet cafes. Instead of a shop owner footing the bill for T-3 or DSL lines in the hopes that a couple of students will buy a second cup of overpriced java, set up these booths and let them feed five dollar bills into the slot all night long. It would also be appropriate in a techless college campus setting where putting a few machines in the student union, dorm rec room or library would be a gold mine.
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I Want My TechTV!
The MTV generation was heralded in a Dire Straits tune. After my Montana trip, we could remake that tune to the title, I Want My TechTV!
As stated before, Techguru Rocky tries to keep on the cutting edge of technology. He teaches technology. He lives for technology. He embraces technology. Like when we went to his post office box where he received his new McGiver ball-point pen: a pen that has a penlight and long distance (400 plus feet) laser pointer. Yes, it probably could take out someone's eye or down a Russian satellite if pointed directly at the moon.
Once firmly planted on Montana soil, it was back to the Ranch for mid-afternoon planning and drinking, two activities which go well together. Rocky has been proclaiming the evangelical good news about DishTV for years. Being out in the boondocks, one could see why a sat-dish would be beneficial. However, in the suburban madness of working weekends, there is little difference between having cable with 70 channels and nothing on to a dish with 200 channels and nothing on.
Last summer, he showed us the techtv website that had weird animation games. Blood and gore for the children. This summer, he showed me TechTV programming.
First off, it had the look and feel of a San Francisco cable access television loft. It had the banter of hosts, staff and crew like the give and take of our college radio station days. Professional but on the edge. The current feature was on digital shoplifting where people go into stores and use their cellphone cameras to take pictures of articles instead of paying for the magazine. The increase in photocam theft? Who would have known that was a growing issue. They were also reporting on the weekend's proposed website vandalism contest. Then the host went to commercial with a dancing hamster screensaver. I remarked at that point that it was not a good idea to substitute cocaine for creamer in the coffee room.
After the break, there was an interview on a subject of digital pyramid schemes. People signing up to buy 100 items in the chance to move up a list to get better stuff for free. The next feature was a young woman tweaking her blog site by cutting, pasting (or lifting code features from other sites) to make a new feature on her home page. The next report was a banter on the continuing crackdown music file swapping sites.
There were cut-shots to staff members playing an on-line real time game. Rocky busted a gut laughing at one guy's shirt that said:
MAC FOR PRODUCTIVITY
LINUX FOR DEVELOPMENT
PALM FOR MOBILITY
WINDOWS FOR SOLITAIRE
I can see why a technophile could get hooked on TechTV. It has a rebellious streak like listening to the small talk in a juvie cell. But it contained cool information on how to do things in photoshop, how to improve your current software, and report on the news topics of the day. Plus, the young women on the shows are cute, tech friendly, clever, witty, smart, very cute, apparently available and like the Mac! What more can a man want?!
There was some serious TechTV withdrawal when I returned to Chicago and the expanded cable mode that does not have this cool station. The withdrawal was acute from missing the programs containing those young women who are cute, tech friendly, clever, witty, smart, very cute, apparently available and like the Mac! What more can a man want?! A dish, of course.
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The X Factor
There has been little need to move from the classic MacOS 9 environment to the new Mac OS X. The office iMacs have OS X by default, but the basic word processing, billing and email programs are not native. OS X is more quirky than the classic operating Macintosh environment. I still prefer running System 9.
The normal course of events, most people do not upgrade hardware or software until the hard disk crashes, the software begins to chew up data and the print drivers suddenly go spasm on every other job.
On the homefront, the upgrade to a new Mac machine has usually come around a price-point of $1299. The home iMac is a 500 Mhz G3. Now that Apple has announced the new 1 Gig G5 processors, I am officially two generations behind in home computer technology. I still occasionally fire up the old Mac si because an old paint program has a plug-in that I use to create my Real News scrawl.
So unless new software demands OS X, there was no need to upgrade. Well, it is getting to that point where the next generation of paint, animation, and web development software is only native. But it may be the newer versions of some classic games, like SimCity4, which require OS X, that tips the scale to upgrading to X at home. It will not be like walking the plank, but restraint is still the key. Just like not buying a newly designed model car in its first production run, it is best to let the manufacturer get the kinks and bugs out of the hardware and software before living on the bridge of constant patches and aggravation.
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Anniversary End Notes
Quick takes on third anniversary issue of cyberbarf publishing on the Internet:
In cyberbarf issue one, we outlined the business plan described the the low fixed costs of a site registration fees, web hosting fees, and the like are constant and not megabudget items. Realistically, the site should break even with its limited cost structure, like any other small business, within a year of launch. As we start the third year of digital publication, the fixed costs remained constant, but the revenue stream from e-commerce store has been a trickle. But most small independent e-publications have that problem. The pindermedia sites have not reached break even, but it is not huge Enron type losses either. It is a function of the economy.
Content is the driving source of hits on the site. Articles, essays and editorial cartoons are the mainstay of this publication written by an average Internet user. For cyberbarf, the readership has been very constant with acceptable growth. It is interesting to note a beginnings of trend that the spikes in views may correspond to the collegiate in-session terms. The special blog issue was especially popular. I guess people like unedited rants.
In terms of getting each issue uploaded in a timely fashion, it has been very consistent. In the beginning, the concept was a monthly examination of the Internet Way of Life through the author's personal viewpoint. Blogs were not in fashion at the time. With a desktop publishing background, a monthly web site seemed to be a logical extension. Only one monthly deadline missed, but only by one day.
So the goals for the next year remains basically the same. Add more features. Try to get others involved in the process to expand the opinion and information to include more ideas. For cyberbarf, the examination of the net way of live will continue. It will continue to explore the personal issues, personal technology and seductive elements of the internet lifestyle. For one thing, we are all net addicts, in some form.
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