Golden Geek Memoir: From Just a Phone to an Ecosystem

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Advances in telephony seemed, to me, to lag the advances in wired networking.  At least at first, and particularly in our household experience. 

Cellular Pre-History

I recall land-line party lines, along with rotary dials of various kinds, ending with the Princess night-stand model and, for a time, the exotic rotary-dialing mispronounced “Erika phone” that worked on my landline until services went to mixed-rotary/pulse dialing or some other incompatibility intervened.

Push-button phones were more revolutionary for the telephone system than for the user, who had to deal with switch to all-numeric numbers and then the gross distortion of that concept, telephone numbers that were published as words that required a dial or a labeled touch-pad to figure out.

In this era, long distance service was also not usually flat-rate and there was a lot of reluctance to run up the telephone bill.  So I had not become what you would call a telephone person.  I harken back to the days when a long-distance call was cause for worried anticipation, almost as much as receiving a telegram had been in earlier times.

This is odd, in one sense, since when I was a freshman at Caltech in 1957, one of the students (who had a summer job with some part of the Bell System) knew about the coming of Electronic Switching Service (ESS) and how in-band control tones were used to access long-distance routing.  So while others were building what became known as Blue Boxes (or learning to whistle the proper frequencies into pay telephones with out-of-pattern numbers), I did not overcome my own risk-averse nature. 

1990 Era Just a (Cellular) Telephone

While I was still on dial-up, single-computer dial-up modem service (using the original form of MSN), I obtained my first cellular phone for a reason that now escapes me.  I had the idea that it would be useful for receiving (and perhaps making) emergency calls, but I didn’t think of it as satisfying any yearn for 24/7 connectivity.

It was just a phone.  The carrier was GTE and the bill was from some sort of green eyeshade era.  I usually had the phone turned off and I left it places.  My worst misadventure with the phone was when I left it in my car while it was in the shop and I couldn’t pick up the car until after returning from some business travel.  Somehow, my bill suddenly had lots of long-distance minutes to numbers in Mexico.  Fortunately, I was able to arrange removal of those charges from my bill.  I don’t know if the phone itself was missing (I think it was), but I closed the account and that ended my first adventures with cellular services.

2000 Era Nokia Communicators

75px-9000[1]My limited analysis of the cellular communications approach in the US led to believing in Europe’s GSM as the proper approach.  My interest turned, in 1999, to the Nokia Communicator 9000i.  When I retired from Xerox in December 1998, my colleagues collected a cash gift with the idea that I could buy two wireless walky-talkies.  I used it toward the purchase of a contract-free Nokia Communicator for developer purposes.  It had no SIM card, but was considerably less expensive than the over-$800 contract price from PacBell. 

In August 1999, the day we arrived ahead of the movers to begin our semi-retired life in the Puget Sound country of Washington State, our first stop was at the VoiceStream store in the Tukwila, Washington, Southcenter Mall.  I initiated a VoiceStream (now part of T-Mobile) contract and obtained a SIM card for the Communicator.  We obtained a Nokia 8290 for Vicki at the same time.  Of course, VoiceStream/T-Mobile did not provide their Internet connectivity in a way that was usable with the 9000.

The 9000i had a low-power Intel processor with GeoWorks, the DOS version of which I had used on my Heath-Zenith PC/XT clone ten years before.  I had found using early Windows versions as a shell and desktop for launching DOS applications far more convenient than GeoWorks and lost interest in it.  I was interested enough to download the Communicator software development kit and tools, but I didn’t go beyond that.

Although I took advantage of the Communicator’s synchronization with Microsoft Outlook, I found that my main interest was in simply sharing my contacts.  There were difficulties in maintaining synchronization and I did not go farther with the Communicator as a software or application platform.

One important characteristic of the 9000i was the infra-red adapter by which I could employ the Nokia Communicator as a modem for my 1998 Dell Inspiron 7000 (aka Compagno).  This became very handy at an AIIM Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, when my hotel’s telephone system went out of service.  I was able to access the Internet and e-mail via MSN dial-up service through the Communicator and the laptop infra-red port.

My second Nokia Communicator was an Italian-language Nokia 9110.  When in Italy for six weeks in 2000, I purchased the phone in Florence and used it the entire time we were in Livorno.  The use of prepaid additions to the Spazio Omnitel SIM was challenging because the operator instructions for adding Lire to the account were in Italian.  I had to hear the recording several times before I could figure out the keyboard sequence required for recharging the phone allowance.

The availability of the 9110 as a modem was also critical during that visit to Italy.  Internet connectivity via the carrier was terrible, but I could use the 9110 as a modem.  Fortunately, calling within the EU was inexpensive enough that I could call into a London dial-up connection to MSN and the Internet.  This allowed me to deal with a small crisis that required rapid analysis and reporting on a bug attributed to the ODMA Connection Manager that I supported.

The 9110 was not adapted to the GSM service used in North America, so the phone was reserved for visits to Italy.  It fell into disuse after Italy converted to the Euro.  I didn’t bother to see how to convert the SIM or whether the phone would continue to operate.

The Nokia 9210 Communicator was my third and last one, replacing the 9000i.  I bought it at a good price as the phone was being obsoleted by the pricey 9300.  The Outlook synchronization was better for a time, but I didn’t keep at it.  The 9210 was my standard phone on our family plan, using the original SIM that I acquired for the 9000i.  I lost the phone at some point in my 2008 attendance at the Microsoft Office Developer Conference in San Jose, California.  Fortunately, I tended to keep the phone turned off and both the phone and the SIM were password protected. 

Intermezzo: Mobile PC Feature Phone

Having lost the 9210, I needed a quick replacement.  I had the idea that a Windows Mobile phone would serve my need for Outlook synchronization more reliably and I obtained a T-Mobile Dash feature phone.  I held onto the Dash long past the contract requirement, expecting that smartphones would become more available and competitive.  I was waiting for something that appealed enough to overcome my reluctance to go for either an iPhone or an Android-based phone, especially at T-Mobile limited availability.

My happiness over synchronization of the Dash with Outlook was also brief.  An preparation for a trip to London, I had moved my Outlook 2003 data from my desktop PC to Outlook 2007 on my Tablet PC.   On bringing the data files back to Outlook 2003 on my desktop system, I discovered that the profile was no longer recognized by ActiveSync.  Unfortunately, I could not break the connection from the Dash side of the arrangement, because synchronization was required to eliminate the synchronization.  Stuck in that impasse, I waited for the day in which (1) I would end up repaving the phone anyhow as part of an OS upgrade or (2) I abandoned the Dash for a better solution.

2010 Phones as Ecosystem Appliances

In November 2010, I abandoned my record as a late-adopter stance and pre-ordered a Windows Phone 7 as my first smartphone.  I paid cash, which may have been a waste of money: I added a second Windows Phone 7 under two-year contract for Vicki, so I am basically contracted on the family plan service for the same period and I doubt that I will want to replace my HTC HD7 before that.

Meanwhile, as part of the Nokia-Microsoft agreement on Windows Phone 7, we are now told that the competitive battle is not among devices but ecosystems.  We’ll see how that goes.  I am more heartened by the situation than many of the commentaries I have been reading.


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This page contains a single entry by Dennis E. Hamilton published on February 14, 2011 12:53 PM.

Scampo Vigil: Near-Death Experiences was the previous entry in this blog.

Orcmid’s Live Hideout: Benefits and Problems Backing up the Windows Live Space is the next entry in this blog.

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