Thursday, January 17, 2008

On the Beach

I should have known it was too good to be true. As I arrived at my station a few minutes before my normal train was due, a Metropolitan train came in and I was pleased to catch it, having had to run up the steps. So would I get in early to work? Nope. The train was very full as we pulled into Harrow and, predictably, we were all ejected due to "problems with a train at Finchley Road". Fortunately another came in soon afterwards but I had to stand, and therefore skimmed through my newspaper rather than sit and read the book as intended.

And it was whilst browsing said journal that I noticed the following gem in the IT section. In an article on a potential network to link car drivers together, Mario Gerla, one of the project leaders, from UCLA Network Research Lab is quoting explaining why this is so much better than existing technology"Imagine you're driving to a beach resort and want to find out what the best beaches are. You could stop at a gas station and download several video clips from an internet access point, but that's not very convenient."

I allowed my mind to boggle gently for some time considering this insight into the mind of a top software architect. The problem, as Mr. Gerla sees it? The desperate search for the best beach. Yup, millions of Americans are right now frantically driving in all directions, on their way to a "beach resort" but chewed up with anxiety that they might not get to the best beach at the resort. Probably the wife is complaining "Milton, you schmuck, why can't we go to the best beach? Don't I deserve the best? And the kids? Find it, Milton, or start counting out the alimony". (I think this scene works well if you envisage Bette Midler and Woody Allen as husband and wife).

And what does our sand-seeking hedonist do next? He (I assume it is a "he" because I like using stereotypes) has not bothered to check out the best beaches before he left home. He does not have a directory of beach resorts in the car. Presumably he has sufficient intelligence to point the car in the right direction, and not just reverse straight out his driveway across the street and smash into his neighbour's Buick but I wouldn't count on it. He has, however, got his trusty laptop computer. But he doesn't have internet access via his mobile (sorry, cellphone). So he stops at a gas station and logs on there. And what does he log on for? To download video clips. Not to access "" to read reviews about beaches and check out facilities, like someone with a brain might do. No, slackjawed and chewing gum (actually can you do those two things at once? I rather doubt it) he gets on to YouTube or similar and watches grainy footage of people eating foot long hot dogs or whatever it is they do at the best beaches at the best beach resorts.

Look, Mr.Gerla, the reason we drive is to get to work or do the shopping or visit people. We know where we are going. We don't get in the car and then go "Duh, where are the best shops?" What we want to know is the state of the roads. Are there are any jams or emergency traffic lights? Is there adequate parking available? The technology you are constructing seems useful but please design it for real life, not California.

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