Dream Machines, part 4: The Ultimates

If it’s such a dream machine, how come I can get it?

One of the things I find so funny, when people talk about the machines they want – be it computers, cars, food processors, whatever – is that people almost always talk about what is currently available to them, with the only problem being the cost and knowledge of using it. What fun is it when, should you ever become Bill Gate’s master, you can go any place and buy one? With that type of money, you could probably build what you want, make it faster and smarter than anything known to man, and make a prototype or invention all your own. That’s the problem I find when most people start talking about dream machines: It may cost a lot to build it, but it’s still available to do.

I hope this sparks some ideas for all of you inventive people. (Hey, I create ideas, fiction, works of art and music – what time or money do I have to invent this stuff?) Even if it doesn’t, it may spark some ideas of your own.

The Main Computer

One of the ideas that I choose to borrow from first was explored by Apple a long time ago with the PowerBook duo line. You have the main machine, essentially a Laptop, that “docks” to a larger system. Even when the Duo Line was gone, the dock idea remained, and a few companies have built docking systems for all sorts of machines.

The problem I’ve had with these docks is, if they enhance anything, it added hard disk space. (I think I’ve seen one with expansion slots it was a Dell, I think.) They rarely did anything more than to make it easier to hook external components to it. Not exactly expandable, certainly not upgradable.

Then there’s the fact that, with Notebooks, you can’t really upgrade them: if you’re lucky, you may have sockets for new processors or, if you’re extremely lucky, graphics cards, but you can’t swap out motherboards, and forget about swapping cases! Even the cheapest POS PC has that capability.

Should I also mention the syncing problem: You have a cajillion gadgets – PDA’s, Media Players (both Flash-and-Disc-Based), Cell phones, Blackberry’s, Game Systems – each with their own system and software. Even though it’s easier now than it ever has been, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have a simple and elegant way to do it?

Since I haven’t touched the Desktop, let’s: it’s too bulky, too big and powerful, to be chilling up at Denny’s all night on a Saturday Night, even to bulky for an Entertainment Center PC. As for those, they HAVE to under-power them in order to have them work in with current AV setups, and let’s not forget DRM…

We may have lost a lot of bulk of the years due to advancements in computing, but when are we going to simplify the machines themselves?

Piece One: The Media Player

Key Features:

  • Small square the Size of a CD Case
  • Has CD/DVD Drive, hard Drive Built In
  • Half of storage space is Flash-based, Half is Flash
  • Interface giant touch screen length of unit, in 4:3 Aspect ratio.
  • 4 ports: USB, earphone, power, computer connection

Okay, so all of this stuff is possible now; what could be so relevant that it could be considered a dream? Try this one on for size: The main CPU is in this thing. Not just to the Media Player, but to the computer that this is a part of.

Got your attention yet? Good. As you may very well be guessing, without the media player unit, you might as well toss this computer in the junk, for your OS, your Processor, and your first HD is on here, not located in a big box or a laptop. Remember all of those problems I just listed, of syncing a bunch of devices together? By putting it into a single machine, you can lock up your computer, preventing anyone but the most serious of hacker of using it and accessing your most important of Data. That also means you can store and use it like a PDA, play games on it like it’s a game system, even make calls on it like it’s a cell phone. throw in a Microphone through the USB, or (if you’re insane enough) a keyboard, and it could be used like a mini-laptop to take notes to transfer to the bigger units later.

Piece Two: The Laptop

Key Features:

  • Additional hard Drive, graphics, sound and interface boards
  • Standard “slim” laptop fare.
  • PC Card slot located in back to use as connection to bigger machine.
  • Giant space where Piece One plugs in, with adequate spacing on sides and inside.

Those following the idea may see where this is going already. After, I didn’t list a CPU or track-pad/keyboard for this machine, have I? (Yes, it does have a keyboard; wouldn’t be much of a laptop without one.) So, we now have two monitors for our laptop: The main one we’ll be doing the bulk of our work on, and the track-pad with additional functionality. Our Optical? That’s right, that slot we’re using on or Media Player. OS? You guessed it; same thing.

One thing I should note about both the processor and the OS: Both would have to be designed to know – and use – whatever is available for that function at that time. Hence, if it’s just the Media player unit alone, it “knows” you don’t want to play Doom 3, and as such, will power down enough to be able to take notes in class, listen to the next Linkin Park disc, or play a tiny version of “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.” Playing Doom 3, Processing Full DV Movies (not the type found on DVD’s), running Photoshop or modeling 3D is NOT what it would do at these times.

So yes, these things would open up when acting as an interface for the Laptop, but it knows it can only power up so far. So again, if there’s modeling, it will only be what the computer can do through the graphics in the system. That’s the bright side to the design: Since your main processor and hard disk is in the Media Player, you can concentrate your laptop on bigger and better things.

Piece Three: The Main Desktop

Let’s make one thing clear before we continue You may already be picturing the DuoDock in terms of what I am talking about. The Duo Dock this won’t be. For starters, It should be able to accommodate more drives and cards than that ever was able to.

Key Features:

  • Additional Drives, Processor, Graphics, Sound Cards
  • 2 Slots: one for the Media Player, One for the LapTop
  • Smarter design

Okay, go ahead, I’ll wait, you can say it: Wayne, you’re insane. That’s ok, because it would all work.

So what does the media player do now, since we don’t need it’s track-pad capability? It monitors the system. If any of you read Maximum PC in 2004, you read about them building an LCD screen into the front of the unit itself. Now, take that 2 steps further: That touchscreen, housing the OS, becomes a launching pad and minor app utility, running your media stuff, checking your EMail, and updating the machine on your daily activities. Your laptop fills in some gaping holes that Media Player doesn’t cover while charging. All three units would be in use at the same time, yet the main things the user will notice is enhanced speed, graphic and sound capabilities, and a simpler design and usage.

Imagine this, for example: you have a major test in your calculus class due on Friday. You use the media player to take all of the notes for you (After all, if someone designs it right, it could have a digital camera, and of course a microphone.) You then go down to the library, plug in your laptop, and clean up your notes. After that, you go online to study some of the formulas you are having difficulty understanding now. You pull a few video clips to your media player, and go to work.

When you get home, you plug your laptop and media player into your main machine. Your machine compiles everything into an easy and interesting glop of notes, video and audio for study usage with your media player the next day, while you are cooking dinner and watching the latest episode of “24” in the background. Your home machine also picks up your friends study notes, and exchanges information, making you and your friend out very well.

The next day, you go to study, meeting up in the library with said friends. Since all of you have the same notes, you help each other with the difficult stuff, referencing the notes occasionally. (After all, that was what the drive to school was for: While you were driving, a small window in the corner of the windshield of your car replayed the video it made for you last night. You practiced while you drove, and the computer was helping you drive as well.)

Come test day on Friday, even with the many other classes you had to study and do homework for that week, you and all of your study group managed to earn high A’s in the class.

So what is preventing you from doing that now? Nothing. Everything in between, however, is slowing you down:

  • You’re really going to carry a digital camera, most of which will have been confiscated by the teacher before class to prevent such a thing? What about the digital recorder?
  • You’re also going to carry the Laptop, used to go online; and the Cell phone, to contact your friends?
  • Let’s not forget the PDA; after all, you have to give the teacher some good reason to let you carry the 2 together…
  • And then, when you get home, you’re going to spend an hour plugging everything in and syncing all of the data BEFORE Compiling that gloppy stew that you’ll be watching tomorrow.
  • Oh, and before we proceed further, let’s add in the fact that you can’t watch videos in your windshield yet.
  • Finally, you’re assuming a lot to think that your buddy, who took the same notes, was actually studying them. Hence, you may be spedning more time trying to catch him or her up.
  • Which makes that A in Cal even more impossible to get.

Cue Light bulb – Mikey, I think he likes it. You have the idea how this could be better.

The Main Problems?

  • First, the OS: It’s time we started pushing towards an AI-based OS. It doesn’t have to be Matrix or even Wargames intelligent, it just has to be intelligent enough to automatically do what’s needed of the day’s events, so that you can focus on deeper, more meaningful things. The most likely source would be Linux, but then there’s the compatibility issues involved with MS and Apple.
  • The Processor: have you ever had a media player cook your guys? Probably the closest thing you’ve had to that is a laptop. To create an intelligent processor with three power-consumption modes is going to be challenging, especially since you don’t want to cook the Hard drive when plugged into the main machine and figuring all of those cool 3D patterns your calc formulas create.
  • Faster, more unified plug-ins – If your processor of your laptop is in the media player track-pad, USB and Firewire alone couldn’t possibly be enough for the task of connecting it to the rest of the system. Especially when your main drives and hardware is there.
  • Thief-proof: If your main data is stored in your media player, it prevents a good chunk of data from being corrupted, if handled right. It doesn’t prevent it from being stolen. This is where the cell-phone tech would easily fit in: as soon as you report it stolen, you prevent the would-be thief from ever being able to use it. hardwire some way of storing DNA, and you could make it so that only you could access all of that stored data again. (Yet another good reason for the track-pad idea…)
  • The paradigm-shift that would need to be created to get on the same page: yes, it’s truly a rich man’s world, and the rich mean can’t seem to agree on jack and Beans. Hence, a cajillion things to do the same task. Can’t we narrow that down so that, even if we mix and match (OS and media Player from Apple, laptop from Alienware, Desktop from Dell), they’d all work the same? They don’t even have to look the same, so long as all of them have the exact same ports in the exact same spots.

This is why it’s called a dream machine: right now, too many factors prevent this from happening. (Just be glad I didn’t make mention of the media center/game system or car units. šŸ™‚

End of Dream Machines 1

When we return to this article later this year, we’ll take a look back at this and make changes as such. Feel free to add or say something more to this if you like, but just remember: these are just my ideas. Don’t like them? Maybe they’ll change later this year. Feel free to drop me a line on this. šŸ™‚


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