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Nuggets in the News: Living in the wireless 'big bang' era

This writer recalls the early days following World War I and into the 1920s when most of the toys and gadgets were operated by electricity supplied from standard batteries that measured about 4 inches in diameter and about 9 inches in length. The...

This writer recalls the early days following World War I and into the 1920s when most of the toys and gadgets were operated by electricity supplied from standard batteries that measured about 4 inches in diameter and about 9 inches in length. They had two terminals, a negative and a positive at the top, much like some batteries today which, when connected by wires, could run small electric trains or windmills.
You couldn't see the power or energy; it was supplied by the magic of electricity. Those were the days when many household gadgets like toasters, electric lights and coffeepots sparkled on the kitchen table. And bigger batteries were used to start your automobile.
Much of this has changed today, as we entered a new era called wireless power, where all your gadgets and whatchamacallits have their own power without the wall plug-in. Now you can stroll around the house or yard with a laptop computer while mom and dad watch their favorite television programs in the bedroom if they wish.
We are able to enjoy the pleasures of life anywhere, anytime, without being connected to a socket. Of course, we have enjoyed radios and television for a long time, but now the system has personal communications gadgets that you can carry anywhere in your pocket.
The value of mobile communications was reaffirmed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, when Mike Daisy, a writer who had just happened into a spot in the financial district, opened up his laptop and instantly connected with the wireless network. He described the devastation and sent an e-mail of his report to a list of 5,000 correspondents. This is just a taste of what will happen when we become cyber-nomads roaming the sometimes cruel terrain of the 21st century with wireless devices as our constant companion.
Perhaps there is a lot to look forward to when the wireless experience arrives en toto, and it will come: The future is only a few years behind schedule. In fact, components of the untethered world have been quietly appearing, piece by piece. Wireless broadband networks are already in place. But will it be nourishing or toxic?
When we look at something like the wireless revolution, we have to think of it not as a revolution in technology but sociology, says Robert Blinkoff, an anthropologist. The young people in Japan see their phone devices not as tools but as companions. In the United States wireless use to date has focused mostly on business productivity and security.
Perhaps the best indicator of the true weirdness of the wired world comes from a humble $25 toy called POX. It is a wireless game that doesn't connect to the Internet, but sends out a short-range signal that looks for another unit, and when that happens a fight ensues between the software warriors programmed by the kids who own the toy. But the wireless program is not just about fun and games: there is a lot of work to be done.
Wireless is the bright light in an otherwise stalled economy. Right now there is a swarm of compatible technologies, users of each form distinct techno-tribes. Blackberry folks are hard core business types who want to make the most of every second and can afford the costly monthly fees. Then there are the enhanced two-way pagers blessed with celebrity. The makers of mobile phones are pinning their hopes on third generation types allowing people to see each other when they talk.
The star standard of the wireless world is named 802.11b or just Wi-Fi. Ever since Apple Computer adopted it for its home network schemes, it has been the breakfast choice of local networks. You can find it in hotels, airports and your own Starbucks. Wi-Fi punks in New York, Seattle and the Bay area have organized a movement to beam free 802.11 nets into busy public places. Microsoft's Windows XP software has built a support if your laptop can link you immediately. Expect Wi-Fi-equipped Internet radios, TVs and maybe even that long-awaited Net Fridge.
Ultimately, we'll end up with a hybrid system that seamlessly moves from one scheme to another like between your home and coffee shop. You will be able to connect to the Web wherever you are. When you leave the house, the action won't stop. In your car, for example, the public would adopt telematics connecting autos to mobile phones, satellite navigation and the Internet.
Dashboard mounted units will be able to read back your air mack, make stock trades and link to the myriad Web sources. They will remind you to pick up your wife at the mall or your kids after the big game. If all this sounds a little crazy, it's the new language, and you and I better start learning it. Whew!

(Editor's Note: Material in this column was obtained from a news release written by Steven Levy entitled "Living in a Wireless World" in Newsweek magazine.)

On the lighter side . . .
Ole and Lars were trudging through the forest looking for a Christmas tree.
After a long search, Ole said, "Let's yust look 5 minutes more ... if ve don't find vun vid lights, let's go home.
Ole says there are two seasons in Minnesota: winter and under construction.
-- Ole and Lena

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