A letter from a reader:
The Convergence Vision of Our Connected Future
Web Informant #45: October 28, 1996

Would you be willing to trade your existing (analog) telephone and modems for a direct digital connection for say about $5 more per month? Well, Chris Coche of FDC Technologies in Bethesda, Md. sure would, and he started thinking about where that would lead. Here are his thoughts.

Let's say that we are approaching the day when more and more cable companies have rewired most of the country. This would make them very attractive targets for acquision, and who better to buy them than the Baby Bells since they could save significant money by not maintaining the old poles, switches, and wires.

Next, Lucent (remember that they were Bell Labs) begins making cable modems that allow direct connection of computers to the cable plant. Buried within these modems is a full protocol stack that replaces the existing TCP/IP stuff runninginside the PC. And part of this new protocol would be a power-up identification which notifies the network that a particular "serial number" of this modem is now alive and requesting network access. Now the network knows the exact identification of the user.

In the meantime, the Bells are hard at work getting people to trade in their old phones for new ones, which also work off this cable plant and enable digital voice transmissions. While these trades are underway, the Bells will need to deliver both analog and digital services and bridge the two together. Eventually, they will be able to scrap their analog systems entirely, reducing their operating costs tremendously.

Soon the global network (which is still quaintly called the "Internet") is reachable from every home with a phone. And, those of us that travel would also get the benefit of being able to plug into the network and get a direct computer connection wherever we go. We begin to approach guaranteed connectability and compatibility, without bandwidth degredation.

One real advantage of this scenario is security. Each device has its own digital signature contained within the hardware, making authentication more secure. And every router and switch has the ability to identify a specific station on our digital cable plant. Spoofing becomes almost impossible: as crooks try to forge hardware signatures, the network roots them out.

Think this is too far-fetched? After watching many of the AT&T "you will" ads over the past few years, I don't think so. People are now asking "where do I get those devices" instead of "how do they do that?" Marketing has prepared us for the digital planet, and its coming convenience.

Thanks, Chris, for that contribution.

Shopping for a Digital Camera?

One place that convergence has already happened is with digital photography. With prices coming down into the consumer bracket (less than $500), perhaps it is time to consider one of these cameras. There are models from Kodak, Epson, and Olympus, just to name a few.

Digital cameras make sense if you don't need to print images on paper -- such as taking pictures for your web site, or manipulating a photograph digitally for publication. Hence the convergence angle. But before you get involved with this, talk to a professional photographer and find one preferably that has used some of these cameras. You'll get an entire different picture from what the computer trade press has been saying.

I learned alot about digital cameras this past summer, when photographer Scott Caliva and I travelled around Computer Associates' CA-World trade show in New Orleans with several of them. The $1000 Kodak DC50, while receiving all sorts of awards (c|net, for one -- you can read the article for yourself here.) is really a piece of junk: in the typical low-light situations of covering a conference, we got poor-quality photos. Having a built-in flash isn't good news for professional photographers who want to set up their own lighting devices. And while the built-in PC Card made it easy to transfer images, the Kodak Photo Enhancer software was an extra step to convert images into something that PhotoShop can handle, like a GIF, JPEG or TIFF file.

Kodak makes other models -- cheaper ones that are less functional, and the DCS200, which is basically a digital back that replaces the standard analog film back of a Nikon F4. That costs plenty (about $10K), but we were glad we used it for the images on our web pages. (You can see a sample of the pages we produced as part of the "Roving Reporter" series for CA-World here.) Having a professional- level camera like an F4 meant we could use the right lenses and flash units to get the kinds of photos we needed, rather than be married to what the camera maker included in an all-in-one digital unit.

There are some newer cameras on the market since this summer, including the Epson PhotoPC, that have more features at even lower prices. But they still have the fixed flash and limited lens selection, which in my mind is more of a drawback than the number of pixels or how many images they can store to a disk.

More on Intermind

My last essay about my impending change in my distribution strategy certainly sparked some controversy, and I appreciate (as always) the emails and reactions about Intermind's technology. In the mean time, they now have a Windows 3.1 version available on their web site.

Since that essay was circulated, I have come across a problem with my web server. I don't want to get into it here, but if you are having problems downloading my hyperconnector, go get it from Intermind's site at http://www.intermind.com/hyperconnectors/wi.con

And, if you are experiencing any problems getting started with the Intermind software, please give their technical support line a call at 1-800-625-6142, M-F 6am to 5pm PST.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407