Sunspots

Excerpts from a diary of a networked future.

Topics: Wireless,

“[Sun Microsystems CEO Scott] McNealy gave several examples of the Net connected future: Light bulbs will be able to warn when they’re about to expire, letting the factory automatically deliver a replacement. Vending machines will bill you automatically when you order a Coke with your cell phone. And the TV set-top box will be the nerve center of home networks that tie together dishwashers, thermostats, video cameras and everything else.”
– From CNet News.com, Nov. 17

Jan. 17, 2003

Help! The washing machine has crashed and will not give up my socks. When I try to open the door, the screen flashes “Error in scripting routine, line 18637.” I see the socks spinning inside. Apparently I have put in a mismatched pair, and the machine doesn’t seem to like that. I think I am not the only one who has had trouble. McNealy was on television last night, saying that we could reduce processor load by investing in clothes that we can “wash once, wear many times.”

March 12, 2003

Back in the 1990s, there was a joke about Bill Gates that went like this: Q: How many Bills does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. He’d just trademark Darkness and call it an industry standard.

Well, guess what? Last month our office building invested in the new SunBulbs. They’re pretty expensive light bulbs — $94 each — but the facilities managers thought we’d cut costs by knowing in advance when the light bulbs are ready to burn out. I think the idea is that before a bulb burns out we get a new one shipped UPS ($4.59) and save the cost of going down to the storeroom ($0.00). The accountants seem to understand the details of this.

Anyway, yesterday we had a server-side crash that set off all the bulbs’ sensors, so they all went out to save power (that’s the other great thing about the new bulbs — they can turn themselves off before they burn out). We called our customer support rep, and he told us not to worry, lots of office buildings are experiencing the same installation hassles. Mood-lit cubicles, he says, are industry standard now.

April 3, 2003

Today’s Infoworld reports hints of dissension in the Sun ranks. After February’s washer-dryer compatibility crisis, Sun’s crack engineers developed a Web-based interface to the washing machine. You put your laundry in the machine, shut the door, then log onto your home network Web site and turn it on. It has been reported that there is a small contingent of rebel engineers who question whether this scheme is actually superior to a more traditional “On” button.



June 9, 2003

I spent three hours today trying to get Sprint to reverse the charges for a 45-minute call to Turkey, but have had no success. I tried to explain that I did not call Turkey, but simply bought a Coke from the vending machine using my cell phone. The phone people say they understand, but it was the new Java-enabled bottle cap that actually made the call. The bottle caps report on a random sample of consumer purchasing behavior. But somehow a programming mistake had the bottle cap misdialing — instead of calling the toll-free customer response number, it dialed into an international network.

Gates is sitting somewhere and gloating, I’m sure. MyCrosoft (the personal appliance unit of the old Microsoft Corporation) has been pushing Windows CE as the connected bottle-cap operating system of choice for a year now, and if embedded Java bottle caps keep screwing up like this, Gates might make a dent in the market.

Aug. 24, 2003

Windows 2003 for Set-Top Boxes came out yesterday. I didn’t want to spend $595
for an upgrade, but I don’t think I really had a choice. It turns out that Windows 2000 was incompatible with my washing machine, and some of my clothes are still trapped inside. The new version promises 100 percent compatibility with major appliances. The trade-off is that it is not fully compatible with the embedded operating system in the toaster, but there might be a workaround. I’m told that in extremis I can control the toaster directly through Sun’s Web site. Or maybe I can just do without English muffins for a while. The toaster has a slow microprocessor, and toasted muffins just don’t seem all that important when you have to wrestle the computer to get them.

Mark Gimein is a staff writer for Salon Technology.

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