What We Won't Be Getting for Christmas

High technology did not make geeks out of people like me. We were born this way, and technology simply gave us an excuse to hone our poor social skills and love of arcane and useless knowledge. Well, that and "Star Trek" conventions. Generations of Chanukah and Christmas wishers before me had their signature geek gifts. My father's generation had crystal radio kits. Some of the early baby boomers like my older cousins had chemistry sets. Imagine that, you generation of helicopter parents. There was a time when we handed kids boxes of potentially dangerous chemicals as presents and said, "Just don't get any on the furniture."

My adolescence was spent in the '70s dead zone of technology, however. The only object of tech geekiness in the age of Electric Light Orchestra was navigating the jargon and MHz ratings of component stereo equipment. The cruel irony of '70s audiophilia was that the geeks most adept at understanding the technology generally could care less about music. Moody Blues and Yes were all the rage in the high school camera clubs and A/V crews because none of us really understood what these blokes were singing about. They made us seem as smart as we thought we were.



My holiday wish lists were as pointless in my youth as they are now, because no one in my family has the vaguest understanding of what is on the list -- let alone why a socially adjusted person would want it. Christmas is now a referendum on my weirdness. As soon as they hit "graphics accelerator" and "HDMI cable," their eyes glaze over and they opt out to the Best Buy gift card. "You don't want that," my ex-wife used to say as a blocking maneuver. Now, our daughter just narrows her eyes as if my list is being exacted on her as cruel punishment. My girlfriend, who is still just getting up to speed on my quirks, is now part of the chorus: "He's kind of a freak, isn't he?" To which the ex-wife responds to both, "This is what I'm saying...."

And so I turn to you, dear readers, for acceptance and understanding this holiday season with a genuine wish list for the wireless world. I won't be getting any of these new toys either. Just make the stuff I got last year and the year before work better.

MMS: Please, at long last. Make multimedia messaging truly interoperable. Being able to reliably send and receive rich media messages across carriers and phones as simply as we use SMS will change the game. Just think of the porn possibilities, kids.

N -N - N -N: The 802.11n "draft 1/2/3" debacle is to home networking what the Blu-ray/HD-DVD divide is to home theater. The next generation of home WiFi standards is critical to making in-home media distribution work, but the industry still has come to market with technology based on "draft" versions of an ungratified standard. I have at least seven WiFi-enabled media streaming devices around the house, from Xbox 360 to AppleTV to Sony PSP. In order to make the 802.11b/g/n cacophony work on the same network, the speeds need to be throttled back to the noisiest wireless channel. Will the grownups please step in here?

Nintendo, please start making mobile games. As I spend hours navigating "Zelda" on the DS and keeping my geek grey matter sharp with "Brain Age 2," I am reminded yet again of the poverty of phone-based games. There are too many titles of lousy quality with all the same game play. Will the real creative kids please step in here?

WiFi my car: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Microsoft Sync, yadda, yadda. I am not buying a Ford to get this. The nose of my Mini Cooper S (how geeky is that?) is literally ten feet from my router. When will I be able to make my car part of the home network and simply push my music and podcasts to a small flash or hard drive embedded in its music player?

Make the media streamers work: Even if I can get a decent WiFi signal to the Xbox 360, PS3 or AppleTV, the video codecs from downloadable video and audio are such a ridiculous mess that it is hardly worth my time. For all the derision Apple suffered over its AppleTV platform, there is no doubt that it is the best device for viewing downloaded material on a living room screen, except that it is too closed to all the formats a media geek gathers from the Web.

Hear me now? Yeah, we can hear you, but we can't always make out what you are saying. In the four years or so I have been carefully watching the wireless market, coverage and stability clearly have improved. I am still struck, however, by the relatively low level of voice quality.

I want a pony. Somebody at Verizon's AOR deserves a big bonus this holiday for the only truly memorable wireless ad of the year. The teenage girl who got a horse-from-hell instead of a cool phone as her present is about four bars funnier than AT&T's tired ads featuring purportedly comic voice drop-offs. It maintains the Verizon branding, but it is also so well paced, edited and acted that you can rewatch it for new nuances. I wish for more wireless ads like that.

And if they are done with the horse, I would like it to eat all the socks, belts, pullovers and coffee grinders (I have three already, thank you) I expect to get on Tuesday.

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