Noted With Pleasure

Do we mellow as we get older -- or more curmudgeonly? The big 5-0 is only months away from hitting me in the face, a time when I should be chasing kids off my lawn, growling back at dogs and telling my sweet sixteen year old to turn down that heavy metal "noise." Instead I find I am liking more things, giving new products the benefit of the doubt, and searching for the good even in the most irritating new mobile widgets.

A number of things passed through the handsets in the past few weeks that made me smile (maybe it was old age gaseousness), despite glaring weaknesses. launched the ShifD service ( ) which lets you clip URLs, blocked text and Web links into a single site that is accessible from the Web and mobile ( ). A tool sits in your browser that lets you send an item to your ShifD page, or you can text message a note from the phone as well. I even sent myself URLs via text that turned into hot links in my ShifD repository. The basic idea is nice enough, and the layout is very straightforward. The references fall into a Notes, Places, or Links bucket. On the iPhone, an address links directly to the on-board mapping.

The problem with such a service is that the concept is more attractive than the cluttered reality. Even after a few days with it, the references pile up, and the scroll of links becomes overwhelming without frequent editing sessions. Also, the entire service is poorly documented. Still, having a central repository of information that is accessible by phone or Web browser is compelling. The younger folks surely will be able to handle the constant data gardening this requires better than I will.

In fact, portability alone can transform an otherwise workmanlike application. The new mobile version of LinkedIn launched this week, and even in its stripped down, spartan functionality the app merits an icon on my iPhone home page.

The feature phone version of LinkedIn is quite good as well, but the iPhone Web app is exceptionally clean and efficient. Like the Facebook app, it opens into your contacts' updates, so you get at-a-glance access to the activity within your network (who added connections, changed jobs or profiles, etc.). The Search function is a superb research tool, since it lets you comb your full database of contacts by keywords, name, company and title. Best of all, there is the Invite function, which lets you invite anyone into your network on the spot simply by entering their e-mail. At events and lunches, this gives you more info instantly on a new contact than any business card exchange. And the images that accompany most of these contacts will help those of us fast approaching our dotage to remember what all of you look like.

LinkedIn Mobile suffers again from too much information on a page. The scrolls get tedious, and we need ways to bounce more quickly into the sub-categories of a profile. Not being a LinkedIn subscriber, I am not sure if the phone contact info is accessible to paid members in the mobile version, but direct dialing of contacts from the profile certainly is the next logical step. Regardless, this is a good step forward for mobile social networking on a professional level. I find LinkedIn a more serious research tool than Facebook, even though the latter is a lot more fun.

And speaking of fun (I am not too old for transparent segues), mobile game designers could do worse than to study the recent wave of iPod game releases. Bomberman, iQuiz, EA's Mini-Golf, and PopCap's Peggle are good examples of how designer should be exploiting the improvements in mobile screen sizes, audio and processing power.

Instead of aiming for console-like complexity all of these games are simple but lush. The iQuiz trivia game takes some of its cues from the old "I Don't Know Jack" PC trivia series. It wraps standard movie and music trivia questions within animations that freshen up ordinary gameplay.

Peggle and Mini-Golf use extremely simple interfaces but elegant audio and visual design to pull us in. I have never understood how so many game designers miss the obvious about casual gaming; it is much less about the challenge than it is about the therapeutic value of gameplay rhythm and environment.

Peggle in particular is another big hit on PCs from the company that made Bejeweled the legal crack for soccer Moms. All you do is aim a marble down into a grid of colored pegs to eliminate the like-colored ones, but the animation, graphic design and music are so soothing that this is one mobile game you will remember you own. Most feature phones do not have the luxury of video iPod screen real estate and audio, but many will. My hope is that designers will use the broader palette of features to enhance the sense of immersion in the game, not the intricacy. But most of all, these games really whet my appetite for what we have in store when the iPhone SDK hits the wild.

But perhaps I am just getting soft in my old age -- so much so that I have forgotten that you should never say "soft" to a 50-year-old male.

My companion is already trying to brace me for life's dreaded tipping point with strong suggestions that we take a romantic trip of some kind for that 50th birthday week.

"If I didn't think hard drugs would give you a heart attack, I would prescribe a month-long peyote trip in the desert," she jabs. So supportive.

I am ambivalent. Taking a romantic getaway at this point is a dubious proposition. It is just as likely to remind me of being 50 as it is of getting me to forget. Anyway, at this advanced stage my come-hither look has deteriorated as much as my night vision. When I suggestively pop my eyebrows at my younger, girlfriend, she just chuckles. "I just look like Groucho Marx mocking Margaret Dumont, don't I?" I ask.

"Who is Margaret Dumont?"

Forget it.

"Who is Groucho Marx?"

Where's the peyote?



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