Just a Thought - Random Giants


- September 6th, 2005

There once was a mouse who lived in a hole. The hole was in a strange place; it sat in the middle of a road on the top of a hill that overlooked the entire realm in which the mouse lived. From the vantage of his front door the mouse had magnificent view of the valley beyond, filled with orchards and fields, and a golden castle in the distance.

Every so often, especially when the king of the realm held special events at the castle, the road saw a lot of traffic; carts pulled by oxen and horses drew men, women, and goods to and from the castle and the town that surrounded it, and the poor mouse, whose life was usually quiet on the hilltop, found himself jostled and tossed about in his hole as the men and carts passed by.

Even on quiet days the mouse had to be watchful; the fox and the owl eyed him hungrily, but avoided being eaten by paying attention, and by keeping away from the routine.

The mouse's friend, the sparrow, said, "Mr. Mouse, why do you live in such an inhospitable place? Huge oxen and horses pulling wagons with heavy loads roll over you house. The fox and the owl watch you constantly, hoping to make a meal of you. One of these day I fear that I will visit you and find you dead, crushed by a wheel or foot, or eaten by one of those giants. Why not move to a place with less traffic?"

The mouse thought about this for a moment and said," My friend, my house is in an ideal place; it is on a hill so it is never flooded, I get a cool breeze that smells of apple blossoms in the Spring, and the snows of Winter melt away first here. But most of all, the view of the realm is the best in all the land.

"If I move I could find myself in a worse predicament. Here I know what to expect and how to deal with it. After all, life exists at the whim of random giants, whose footfalls may crush us anywhere, and at any time. I choose to live where I can see them coming and enjoy the view in the meantime."

As you may have surmised by my philosophical waxing, I'm in a pondering mood these days; the above story is the product of observations I've made of two frogs I happened to see why out and about, and of Apple: One frog was sitting on the sidewalk determined to get an evening meal despite heavy foot traffic, the other made its home in a hole at the foot of a tree in a tiny landscaped island in the middle of a mall parking lot. I had these amphibians in mind the other day while I read about another ill wind blowing in Apple's direction, this one from Creative. And that's when I had one of those sometimes painful epiphical moments. (yes, I know 'epiphical' is not a real word, but it should be. Besides, what is real?)

I realized that when we put ourselves on top of a hill we can see a lot of pretty countryside, but we also expose ourselves to the hungry eyes of predators and the random footfalls of passing giants. And so it is with Apple, the Mac, and the iPod.

I'm not saying that Apple has had its run and that the competition circling it at the moment is closing in for the kill; far, far from it. What I am saying is that, like the mouse who sat on top of his hill enjoying the view, something could very easily come along and make Apple and its products as desirable as lint. Apple's history is replete with examples of giant footfalls; The Newton, Apple clones, even Steve Jobs' job at Apple was not immune to a random size 2000.

But the point is not to sit around and fret about if or when you get crushed or eaten; you can't enjoy the view if you do. R1ather, the point is to do everything you can so that you can continue to sit on the hill and take in the sights.

I'm writing this a few days before Apple's big announcement in which many believe Steve Jobs will unveil an iTunes compatible cell phone from Motorola. Others believe Jobs will be announcing more sweeping changes to the iPod line. While a phone that downloads and plays songs from iTunes is interesting, I sincerely hope that those who believe that more sweeping changes are afoot (pun intended) are right.

I've just reviewed Palm's extremely cool, but a tad pricey LifeDrive. This device, I believe, points to how future iPods might look and act. The iPod currently, with its dock port, is the Swiss Army Knife of MP3 players, yet a device like the LifeDrive, properly positioned, could eclipse the iPod on several key features, including the versatility derived from its dock port.

Still, with all of the hubbub over who has rights to which iPod technologies, with the record companies pushing for more pricing controls over music downloads, with competitive, and more open Digital Rights Management schemes being adopted by public libraries around the country for the use of audio book-lending the rumblings of distant giants are becoming louder and more urgent.

As for Macs; many have tried but few have yet to match the combination of usability, performance, features, and, with the introduction of the Mac mini, price. With the impending transition to Intel processors, Macs will, if nothing else, stay under the close scrutiny of the press, which can be very good if all goes well, or devastating if it does not.

Yet, all is not rosy in the Mac world; some developers claim that the new hardware is a bear to develop for. Meanwhile, some potential buyers wonder if they should wait until Mactels appear and deal with an unknown or buy now and be stuck with what some might believe will be an inferior product.

And, of course, any movement or noise from Apple's corner is taken as a sign that analysts openly attempt to divine some meaning from, but ultimately end up adding more noise into the ruckus.

With so much going on it's hard to see everything coming. At this very moment, someone in some lab or basement somewhere could be putting the finishing touches on a technology that could make computing, as we know it today, obsolete.

Some genius may find a way to give us all perfect memories, and with it, we may find that our need of mobile mechanical memory, for whatever reason, is no longer needed.

The next big thing may not be a thing at all. We think, therefore we hear music.

It's a world of hungry eyes and random movements of forces over which we have no control. Still, one does what one can, the only other option tis to do nothing, and be crushed.

Hanging out on a hilltop and dodging giants can be dangerous, but if done with finesse, it can also have its rewards. I have to believe that Apple has its ear to the ground, listening for the rumble of oxen in the distance even while it surveys it current lofty position on top of the hill. To believe otherwise would increase the Death Knell Counter.